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Bed Lamp Alternatives

We fuss aimlessly over the chandelier choice in our dining room and the mini-pendants over the island in the kitchen. In the bedroom, we take less time and simply fall back on some tired old bed lamps. Why? There are other options. Here are a few alternatives to consider along with some installation tips.


If you are the type of person who accumulates a lot of things on the bed stand, hanging a pendant overhead frees those surfaces. Beyond this very practical reason, bedside pendants can add an unexpected level of flair to the room. Differentiate the space, by using a small pendant, larger pendant or even a cluster of two or three narrow units hung at varying elevations. When doing something uncommon, the room takes on a unique characteristic.


Sconces can be another alternative to lamps, especially if reading in bed is part of your pre-sleep, nighttime routine. Adjustable, articulated sconces are extremely popular today, so finding one that compliments the design of the room will be very easy. This method of lighting is also growing in popularity because of the aging eye. Totally adjustable light can be positioned exactly where needed for the perfect reading light.

Another sconce option is the portable pin-up type widely available in the market. The light can be hung exactly were needed. Like a bed lamp, these simply plug into a wall outlet. A cover runs down the wall masking the cord.


Perhaps the reason for the popularity of a lamp is their ease of placement. Regardless of the bed size or the position of the nightstand, lamps are quickly set up and ready to use.

Pendants and hard-wired sconces require a touch more planning. A California King will need outlet boxes installed farther apart than a twin bed. If wired lighting is employed, the size of the mattress, headboard or bed frame must be known. (Whichever is the widest.) The placement in the room must also be defined. Add 12” to each side and place the center of the outlet box at that point.

Sconces are typically mounted 60” to 72” from the floor. If the bed is a conventional height, use the 60” option, if the bed is a low, platform-type, you may want to have them installed lower. Imagine sitting up in bed, reading. The light should be about shoulder height.

To properly place sconces on each side of the bed, take the widest portion of the bed, frame, etc. and add 12″ to each side. That becomes the centerline of the outlet box. Height from the floor will depend on the style of bed.

A typical bed stand is 18” deep, so the center of the ceiling outlet box for a pendant should be installed 9” from the wall. Dimensions might need adjustments to accommodate larger pieces of furniture, oversized headboards or deeper bed stands.

I like the bottom of pendants to fall 48” from the floor, again with conventional type beds. Lower beds will probably need that to drop based on the frame design.

Outlet box placement for ceiling mounted pendants is calculated the same as wall mounted sconces, the widest portion of the bed plus 12″ on each side. Position the bottom of the shade at 48″ from the floor and make any adjustments based on bed height and personal preference.

Luminaire Features

With fixed sconces, adjustable/articulated sconces or pendants, the shade material should be opaque. (This should be the same with portable bed lamps.) Remember bedrooms are designed to prepare you for rest. Dark shades with light aimed downward and possibly upward is indirect and very “easy” on the eyes. They will minimally impact the relaxation process we pass through as we prepare for sleep.

Recessed Cans

Especially in hospitality suites, recessed cans are growing in use over beds. Usually, this is accomplished with a single light over each pillow position. Unfortunately, this method does create a bit of spill onto the head/face of a sleeping partner. A better option is the use of adjustable recessed luminaires placed on each side of the bed. With a narrow beam light aimed across the bed, all of the “spill” light ends up on the floor and not in our partner’s face.

If recessed cans are used for in-bed lighting, to avoid spill lighting on a sleeping partner, use adjustable swivel lights with a narrow beam and aim them across each other. Excess light will fall on the floor not their face.

Switching Options

Pin-up portable sconces will have a line switch on the wire. This may be difficult to reach. If these are selected, pay close attention to how they operate. If inconvenient, the addition of a floor switch might be helpful.

For hardwired sconces and pendants, a switch should be positioned on each side of the bed to control the light on that side. If your partner is notorious for falling asleep with the light on, three-ways switches on both side can be very helpful! The center of wall switches are typically positioned 48” from the floor. This should work well for conventional beds and as with other accommodations required for platform beds, a lower placement might be easier to use.

I also recommend a switch next to every bed that controls the night light or toekick lighting in an adjoining bathroom. As we age, we take more trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night and navigating that short distance might seem easy, but isn’t. Aging eyes need more light and this added control could prevent a life-altering fall.

Another option to consider is a motion sensor activated light switch that controls under-bed lighting. The moment a foot touches the ground, the under-bed lighting (usually LED Tape) activates. Because of its location, your sleeping partner is not disturbed.

Under-Bed lighting can provide the soft illumination needed to avoid circadian disruption and assist in nighttime navigation. Motion activations makes it easy to use.

Bedrooms are for sleeping and because of that, darkness is key. Nighttime activity and even navigation is inevitable and the only way insure this darkened room services the needs of the homeowner is proper lighting, properly placed with the correct controls. Boring lighting is not, however a mandate and there are many ways to avoid that unfortunate outcome.

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