Living in the Land Where the Sun Never Sets
DENALI, ALASKA- What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about living in Alaska? Is it the northern lights? The presence of Grizzly Bears? Salmon leaping out of a stream? For many, in fact, the first thing they ask me about after having spent time in Alaska is how I dealt with the constant sunlight. The answer is, quite simply, that I readjust. Fortunately, I’m not afflicted with any particular sleeping disorders, maladies on which zero hours of total darkness per day would likely wreak havoc, but I find that I simply exist with less sleep.
The summer solstice has always been a noteworthy date in my mind—the longest day of the year, with the most sun. After that, the days get shorter, and the sun sets earlier. It was always a turning point, but the day itself never meant all that much. Here in Alaska though, the solstice is a much more remarkable event, with the sun setting after midnight, and rising around 3-4AM. On paper, that means four hours of night-time. In practice, there is no nighttime. Think about a normal sunset—once the sun goes down over the horizon, darkness does not reign over the land. There is an hour or so of dusk. Conversely, there is the same period in the early morning before the sun rises. On the solstice (and quite a few days before and after it), dusk and dawn converge during the nighttime, meaning there is no such thing as darkness. It’s a spooky feeling.
My body simply readjusted. I tried using a sleeping mask, but discarded it after a few days…it just didn’t work, and was annoying to wear. I quickly adjusted to going to sleep while it was still light outside—of course, the sun wasn’t blazing high in the sky, but there was light in the room and little you could do about it. I found myself rising earlier, since there was no reason to stay in bed because it was dark outside—the sun is out, it’s time to get up. I needed less sleep—as little as 4-5 hours a night, because the sun told my body it is time to be up. Maybe all of that Vitamin D does a man well, but I can imagine that during the winter it is a singularly unpleasant experience.
The concept of being able to go on a hike at 11PM because it is still light outside is a novel, yet most welcome one. There is no end-limit on when you can start any activity, because there wasisalways enough light to finish it. Want to go on a 6PM rafting trip? That’s no problem at all, because it’ll wrap up by ten, and there will be moreeee than enough daylight to tide you over. You quickly lose track of all time and space, because time feels like one long day…no longer is it splices of single days, one quickly runs into the next without darkness.
In terms of novel excitement, this is a grand concept. In terms of personal productivity, and the structuring of a routine, it is a nightmare. I would imagine that if you live through the seasons with any regularity, you get used to the cycle. But as someone just visiting for the summer, I find it virtually impossible to have any semblance of a regular day when the sun never sets. It’s not wholly unpleasant, but I most certainly will not be around when the sun never rises.