Alaskan Summer Makes it Hard to Sleep
Alaskan summers can hit your sleep schedule hard. If you’re reading this, you are likely one of those people. And it’s not just the midnight sun, or lower down in Alaska the “twilight night.” Alaskan summers can make it hard for many Alaskan’s to sleep because:
- Sunlight or light all night long
- Doing shift work during summer (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
How much you struggle with the light depends on:
- How far north you are
- How sensitive you are to light
- What existing measures you take to ensure good sleeping habits
The primary concern here is the development or worsening of insomnia and circadian rhythm disorders, because 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 these transitions in Alaska, it can be much harder for our body to have the clues needed to produce melatonin at night and get to 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?
Your circadian rhythm is 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 patterns
- 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.
Lifestyle Tips for Sleeping in Alaskan Summers
Some lifestyle choices that will help you get a good amount of sleep with the transition to summer and the actual summer are:
- 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.
Environmental Tips for Sleeping in Alaskan Summers
The environment in which you sleep will make a huge difference for your success at sleeping well during Alaska’s midnight sun/twilight months. The most important factors are:
- 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
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 talk to us or take an online sleep test.