In addition to stimulating the visual system, light incident on the retina stimulates other biological functions, also referred to as non-visual responses. Among the most notable biological functions are human circadian rhythms, which are bodily rhythms that, in constant darkness, oscillate with a period close to, but typically slightly longer than 24 hours. Twenty-four-hour light–dark patterns incident on the retina are the major synchroniser of circadian rhythms to the local time on Earth. Entrainment of circadian rhythms has been implicated in health and well-being. Light can also elicit an acute alerting effect on people, similar to a ‘cup of coffee.’ This review summarises the literature on how light affects entrainment and alertness and how it can be used to achieve these aims.