Can a Light Bulb Change Your Life?

Why this little piece of modern tech is my essential self-care item

(Photo: Getty Images, illustration: Elham Numan)

“You really need some light in here—this is depressing,” my friend said as we moved boxes into my old apartment in Toronto. I knew it would be an adjustment to leave my sun-filled brownstone walk-up in Brooklyn, NY, for the dark, ground-floor apartment I’d grown up in with my late mom. I anticipated that living in our home without her would rile up my anxiety, a roommate my brain had learned to live with over the past nine years. What I hadn’t expected was to find the apartment and furniture we’d shared for more than a decade severely damaged by my tenants. After a month of physical and emotional labour to make the space inhabitable again, the idea of redecorating seemed too daunting a task. Months went by, and my gloomy, barren apartment became my new norm.

I used my freelance journalist “I can work anywhere” mentality as an excuse not to improve the space. I considered joining one of several new co-working offices downtown, but couldn’t justify the expense—“Why would I pay to cram into a sweaty bus with the nine-to-five crowd?” I reasoned. But then came the early sunsets and harsh winter chill, and I found myself spending more time at home than I’d like to admit. The appeal of working in sweatpants began to wane.

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I turned to “wellness” products, hoping they might offer an easier (and cheaper) solution than redecorating. Between a reflexology mat, an essential-oil diffuser, the occasional crystal and the requisite Himalayan salt lamp, my apartment became a testing lab for self-care tools. But then I discovered the WiZ smart light bulb, and all my former “tools” were put to shame.

I noticed the bulb’s impact on my energy levels immediately. Its “Daylight” and “Focus” modes shortened the mental fog I usually feel for the first few hours of the day; both writing and working out at home became less arduous. I should have known that better light could improve my drive—I had heard about the benefits of daylight-mimicking light-therapy boxes for people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder. Research has shown that bright light can increase serotonin levels, boosting mood and productivity. But studies have also found that bright light in the form of blue light—the kind that’s emitted from our screens—can prevent us from getting adequate rest come bedtime.

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The WiZ bulb offers a solution on both fronts: The circadian-rhythm timer makes my apartment bright as I wake but gradually warms the light throughout the day to ensure my brain secretes melatonin—the hormone essential for falling asleep—at night. Sure, I could use blue-light-blocking glasses as an excuse to accessorize, but this way I have the added benefit of infusing my entire space with a warm glow to help me wind down in the evening.

Once the novelty of syncing the light to my sleep-wake cycle wore off, I began to play around on the WiZ app to see what other benefits the bulb might offer. The alternating red, orange and yellow light of the “Fireplace” mode creates a toasty ambience that my lacklustre electric fire has never been able to achieve on its own, while the vast selection of warm colours—from “Relax” to “Fall” to “Cozy”—compensate for my apartment’s lack of hygge. I may not be able to completely control my anxiety, but having the ability to finesse my down-time atmosphere helps prevent it from firing up as easily.

The noticeable feel-good effect of the bulb’s warm hues got me thinking: Maybe colour temperature, like brightness, has health benefits too. While there exists plenty of evidence that blue light influences alertness and reaction time, awareness around the effects of other colours on the body (known as chromotherapy) is slowly catching up. Edwin Babbitt, considered a pioneer of modern chromotherapy, believed that “colour rays can affect the entire blood stream through circulation and elimination of toxins.” In the early 20th century, he prescribed yellow light as a laxative and blue light for headaches. More recent research has found that exposure to red light a few minutes before exercise may prevent muscle soreness, while green light has been linked to reductions in acute and chronic pain.

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Years of seeking self-care comforts has shown me that my mental health can be altered by my senses—the scent of lavender, the sound of a crystal bowl, the feeling of a soft blanket—yet I’d completely overlooked the role of sight. While being able to regulate the brightness and hue of my light has made a noticeable difference to my overall well-being, it’s the predictability of the bulb that I appreciate the most.

In a space fraught with mixed emotions and the weight of grief, having a light that I know will turn on and change colour automatically at the same time every day oddly feels not unlike cuddling up with a giant blanket. Perhaps it’s because at the heart of my mental-health challenges lies the fear of being out of control, and this lightbulb offers an antidote: the ability to alter the mood of my apartment with a single tap of my finger.

As the months have passed and my bulb has faded into the background of my daily routine, I’ve noticed my once-dying plants are starting to bloom again. So not only has the bulb kept me from shrivelling up in my uninspiring space, its purple-hued “Plant Growth” mode appears to have brought my flora back to life too. While I’ve yet to figure out how to connect the light to Alexa or Siri, the bulb (and my ability to survive winters in my apartment) continues to surprise me.