Alaskan Summers, Lots of Light, Little Sleep
Alaskan summers can make having a sleep schedule feel impossible. If you’re reading this, you are likely one of those people.
It’s not just the sun/twilight that burns throughout the night. Alaskan summers can make it hard for many reasons, including:
- Sunlight or light all night long
- Influx of shift work during the summer, such as fishing, construction, etc.
- Pressure to be packing in full schedule in short summer season
- Transitioning from Alaskan winters
- Pressure to be soaking up as much sunlight as possible
Of course, we all (in Alaska) struggle with light different based on:
- How far north you are
- How sensitive you are to light
- What existing measures you take to ensure good sleeping habits
What are Sleep Disorder Concerns for Alaskan Summers
The primary concern with sleeping during the summer in Alaska is developing or worsening of sleep disorders, namely:
- Circadian rhythm disorders
Our circadian rhythm (sleep/wake cycle, biological clock) is managed by melatonin, which in turn responds to light, dark, and changes in light and darkness.
During transition from light to dark, we produce melatonin (makes us go to sleep), and during transitions from dark to light we repress melatonin (makes us wake up). Without the transition to darkness at night, such as during Alaskan summers, it can be much harder for our body to have the clues needed to produce melatonin and prompt sleep.
What is Insomnia?Insomnia is a sleeping disorder that prevents you from getting enough sleep because:
- You have trouble falling asleep
- You have trouble staying asleep throughout the night
- You wake up much earlier than you want
If you have insomnia you never feel like you are getting enough rest (because you aren’t) at least 3 nights per week for a given time. It’s frustrating to not be able to sleep when you want to, and there are a whole host of risks associated with sleep deprivation.
There are two types of insomnia, secondary insomnia and primary insomnia:
- Secondary insomnia: you have insomnia as a direct result or symptom of something else, such as a health condition, medication, pain, substance abuse, etc.
- Primary insomnia: opposite of secondary insomnia, and means that your trouble sleeping is not the direct result of some other underlying issue
Insomnia also varies in how long it lasts and the frequency with which it occurs:
- Acute insomnia is short-term, such as dealing with insomnia for up to a month, but no more
- Chronic insomnia is symptomatic long term (defined as insomnia at least three nights per week for a month or more)
What are Circadian Rhythm Disorders?
Circadian rhythm is the same thing as your “biological sleep clock.” This biological sleep clock is a part of your brain called the superchiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus, and sits right behind the nerves of your eyes.
Circadian rhythm disorders include insomnia, but also encompass any type of sleeping problem you may have, such as:
- Erratic sleep pattern
- Ever shifting biological clock
- Natural sleep/wake times that are abnormal
A good example of this is Jet Lag, which is a temporary circadian rhythm disorder that makes it difficult to sleep at “regular” times, but once asleep you don’t have trouble getting enough sleep.
How to Set and Maintain Sleep Schedule During Alaskan Summers
You can do a lot of easy preparation and work to help. This easy work and preparation relates largely to your lifestyle choices and how you set up your environment.
- Have blackout curtains in your room
- Try and use your bedroom for only sleeping as much as possible (don’t work out, do work, etc.)
- Keep your room cooler at night
- Use essential oils, candles, and/or plants to make your room smell comforting/fresh
- Invest in a comfortable pillow for your head and legs
- Invest in a comfortable mattress (they are often on sale and they last a long time, after all)
- Use white noise machines (i.e. a fan) or ear plugs if needed
- Using light therapy during winter
- Maintaining pre-sleep ritual every night, such as reading, meditating, etc.
- Having consistent exercise
- No blue light in the hour before bed
- No alcohol in the hour before bed
- No food in the hour before bed
- Having a bedtime that you commit to as often as possible
- Taking hot baths before bed, as when you get out of the bath, it simulate a core temperature drop (i.e. night time is coming!) that is a cue for sleep
If you have children, setting up pre sleep routines is practically no different than doing it for children.
The reality is that seasonal insomnia or sleep disorders may be very difficult for you to prevent or mitigate. If you have tried everything and are still struggling, feel free to consult to us.