LED: The flicker factor

Why you need to look twice at the lights in your home

We’ve all seen a flickering lamp. But did you know that all artificial light flickers – whether you can see it or not? And it turns out that LEDs may actually be the worst offenders. You might be thinking ‘so?’ but the fact is, these flickering lights are doing you harm. Here’s why.

LED lights are often considered to be a constant source of light. Not only is this not the case, but – because LEDs don’t just dim between pulses of electricity (as a filament bulb does), they actually effectively turn off – they have a more pronounced flicker.

The alternating current effectively leaps between bright (high frequency) light, down to zero. It may happen incredibly quickly, but it is still happening and our brains pick up on it.

Why should I care? Out of sight, out of mind – right?

We might imagine that since the flicker occurs at such speed and is virtually imperceptible to our conscious human eye, it has little or no effect. Yet, doctors and neuroscientists are now beginning to recognise the heavy toll this is taking on our systems. Our exposure to electric light: to its flicker; to blue light peaks [YOUR LIGHTBULB MOMENT – WHAT’S SO BAD ABOUT BLUE?]; and to excessively bright screens and LEDs, has increased by 70% since the year 2000 and is resulting in huge rises in epilepsy, ADHD, and a vast range of mental health problems and sleep issues.

Dr Shelley James, studying the impact of light at the crossroads of multiple medical disciplines including neurology, psychology and ophthalmology, states: “Flicker is affecting all of us. But some are more vulnerable than others. Children’s eyes and brains develop at an incredible rate in order to survive in a potentially hostile environment, so they are acutely sensitive to subtle shifts around them and perceived threats [since electric light is still relatively new, flicker associates with fire in our caveman brains!]. You can see how rapid movement or flicker would keep them on high alert, diverting resources from other activities and disrupting the natural cycle of attention and relaxation.

“It is becoming clear that flicker is an issue for people with a range of other psychological and neurological conditions too, from agoraphobia and dyslexia to dementia.”

How does it affect us?

Primarily, there are two key areas to be aware of:

1.

If your brain is constantly working hard to read scenes in such a way that keeps us safe and receiving ‘warnings’ in the form of flicker that it has to learn to filter out, this is an extra task that diverts our ability to focus on what is actually important. Dr James states: “On a deep level, we never get used to this flicker. It is particularly hard on children who are trying to locate themselves in the world.” And this leads us to point 2…

2.

The speed of those on/off and light/dark patterns is very similar to the rate at which your eyes are scanning the scene. You may think that your gaze is steady. But in fact, your eyes make up to 120 movements, or saccades, per second in order to stitch together the pieces of a scene. This is fine when the world is lit by a continuous source, like the sun, but If patches of the scene are, in effect, in darkness as the eye reaches them, then the brain is working to complete the puzzle with missing information. This can make simple tasks, such as reading, a highly complex process. “It is this that causes the feelings of malaise and frustration – in children and adults alike,” says Dr James.

What options do we have?

Overall, Dr James summarises that we should be vigilant by using four main approaches: repair, replace, defuse or distance.

“LED’s are here to stay – they are so much more energy-efficient, compact and cooler than the old incandescent options. But the good news is that there are some quick and simple solutions to this issue. Most cost little or nothing.

“Try using your phone to video each of the lights in your house in slow motion. Those where you can see the flicker on film will be your biggest problems. Since it is usually the lightbulb that’s at fault (though it can be the dimmer or an external driver), it’s a good idea to change these immediately for better quality lightbulbs.

“The industry has become more aware of the impact of flicker on our health and well-being, and has made various attempts to improve its track record in recent years. A new generation of integrated Flicker Free lighting products [Our Products] are finally transforming our options for the better.” Look out for references to ‘Ripple Free’, ‘Flicker Free’ or ‘Flicker Bridging Technology’ on LED products you buy.

“Thanks to this next generation of manufacturers, we can finally shift our perspective from cinefilm to high definition and give our brains a break.”

Created by the UK start-up, RAY Lighting, the SunRAY ranges introduce world-first innovations to achieve a truly Circadian friendly range of LED bulbs using BlueBalance Technology. Combining many years of experience in the lighting industry, a passion for beautiful design and a drive to bring organic, natural light into all aspects of our lives, RAY Lighting has succeeded in creating Full Spectrum, Flicker Free, violet chip and ‘Nature’s blue’ LEDGU10/MR16 form light bulbs amongst their family of products.

Learn more about the RAY story here