Alaska Sleep Education Center

Sleeping with the midnight sun

Posted by Jennifer Christensen on May 22, 2013 12:41:00 PM

It’s that time in Alaska: insomnia becomes the norm as the sun beats through the window for nearly all hours of the day.

The wild swing that Alaskans deal with in daylight comes with sleep ramifications, especially in the summer as all that sunshine disrupts circadian rhythms. Since there’s no way to

One of the things that makes Alaska such a unique place to live or visit is its amazing summers. Summer time in Alaska is like no other place in the U.S. because of the vast amount of daylight we get. In the northernmost parts of the state the sun refuses to set for nearly a month. In the interior, the sun briefly dips behind the mountains leaving golden hues to hold its place until it returns minutes later. And even in the southern parts of the state, periods of darkness are so short, that if you blink, you could miss it.

When you combine the copious amounts of daylight with a plethora of exciting outdoor activities, you come across a unique challenge: How do you sleep with all of this daylight?

While most resident Alaskans have grown accustomed to our unparalleled annual cycles of dark winters and radiant summers, many first-time visitors find the abundance of daylight to be a shock to their systems. So to help those of you visiting Alaska this summer here's what you need to know about how daylight affects your sleep habits, and some tips to avoid sleep troubles.

How light affects sleep.

How light affects sleep

Our patterns of sleep and wakefulness are regulated primarily by our circadian rhythms, also known as our "body clocks." The functions of the circadian rhythm is based in the part of the brain known as the hypothalamus. Within the hypothalamus is a cluster of cells called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which is connected to our optic nerves that sense changes in light.

The SCN is also responsible for regulating many body functions that revolve around the 24-hour cycle including: body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and the release of hormones such as melatonin which helps us with sleep.

When night begins to fall, the SCN senses the changes in lighting and begins to release melatonin to initiate and maintain sleep. In the morning when light begins to return, melatonin production decreases, and our heart rates, blood pressure, and body temperature increase, allowing us to wake up.

Too much light, especially at night, can aid in disrupting our circadian rhythms and making it difficult to initiate and maintain sleep. And when you're visiting a place like Alaska during the summer, your body clock can easily get of out of sync, especially when you're more than likely experiencing jet lag from traveling here on top of it, giving you two factors working against your circadian rhythm.

And if you end up losing too much sleep during your trip due to the daylight, not only will it make your stay in the north less enjoyable, it can also lead to sleep deprivation, and the development of a circadian rhythm sleep disorder.

shove the sun under the horizon when it’s bedtime, consider other alternatives.

 Blackout curtains. You can purchase specially-made blackout curtains in throughout Alaska, but if you don’t want to invest in those and also don’t mind a little DIY, you can block the light from your windows yourself. Tin foil and garbage bags are popular, as are a combination of venetian blinds and a bath towel. Alaskans are nothing if not resourceful!

 Eye mask. Instead of an elaborate window-darkening scheme, simply cover your eyes up. Again, you can purchase an eye mask, or you can fashion your own from a bandana or a headband.

Other light sources. Cracks under the door and skylights allow midnight daylight in, so you should consider blocking those as well. A bath towel along the door crack should block out any daylight creeping in. A skylight is more difficult: one recommendation is to add Velcro to the perimeter and then attach a fleece blanket it to it. Depending on the accessibility of your skylight you may need to leave this up all summer.

Do you have other ways of coping with all of this sunlight? What are they? 

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Topics: alaska sleep clinic, insomnia, sleep disorders, trouble sleeping

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