Why Alaskan Winters Keep You Up at Night

Posted by Tyler Britton on Oct 30, 2019 8:00:00 AM

Why Alaskan winters keep you up at night - Anchorage Sleep Center

Alaskan Winter Darkness Means Big Internal Changes

Alaskans’ sleeping schedules are unique. While it sounds reasonable to think, “Summer in Alaska is for long, fun days and winters are for lots of sleep,” it’s actually not quite that simple. As you go further north, things get even more complex. Our extreme lighting conditions affect our lives in many different way – ways that can be incredibly disruptive towards sleep.

The reason our sleeping schedules are affected by lighting changes is because extreme lighting conditions – as well as the cold – affect our lives:

  • Sociologically
  • Psychologically
  • Physiologically
  • Habitually

Many of us are completely different people in summer and winter, with different sleeping patterns (or lack of), different work out patterns, social patterns, and so on.

Especially in the case of winters, many of us have mental, cognitive, or emotional responses to the total darkness, and our behavior changes as well. This is even more true if you are not into winter activities like skiing, skating, and so on.   

How Long Days of Darkness Cause Sleep Disruption in Alaska

Negative responses to the long darkness generally result in things like seasonal depression or sleep disorders – the darkness can either cause sleep disorders or make them worse. The most common ones are:

Our ability to have a healthy biological clock and sleep pattern is largely regulated by external cues – namely changes in light – that are much harder to acquire in the long, dark Alaskan winters.

Melatonin is a hormone that helps you regulate sleep, and it is light sensitive. Changes in light cue melatonin production or slowdown:

  • When the environment switches from light to dark, we increase melatonin production
  • When the environment switches from dark to light, we decrease melatonin production

In the darkness, we lack these changes in light to cue melatonin changes.

Other Factors Affecting Sleep in Alaskan Winter

Additionally, there are other compounding factors that hurt sleep in Alaskan winters

  • Less exercise
  • Less time outdoors
  • Seasonal depression
  • Normal routines and cues before bed change

Long story short, maintaining a healthy biological clock requires a lot more effort during the winter and if unmanaged it can easily lead to an erratic and sleep deprived sleep schedule.

Symptoms of Darkness Induced Sleep Disorders in Alaska

There are some hallmark symptoms that you are suffering from a sleeping disorder caused by long, dark days, including [SleepEducation]:

  • General performance loss in many important areas of life (work, relationships, etc.)
  • Chronic daytime fatigue
  • Being unable to stay awake during the day
  • Sudden onset of sleep-readiness at an odd hour during the day
  • Memory trouble
  • Concentration problems
  • Brain fog
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood troubles


Sleep deprivation has many health side effects too.

Ways to Combat Sleep Problems in Alaskan Winters

Some tried and true ways to combat sleep in Alaskan winters are:

  • Light therapy!!!
  • No alcohol right before bed
  • Limit total caffeine intake
  • Limit caffeine intake after noon
  • Limit liquids directly before bed
  • Take a hot bath right before bed
  • Take same actions before bed every evening
  • Cut out blue light (TV, computers, smart phones) in the hour leading up to bed
  • Using scents, such as essential oils
  • Listen to the same music before bed
  • Do a specific calming activity, such as meditation, washing, right before bed
  • Find an activity outside you like
  • Get a gym membership
  • Get an at home workout series, such as P90X

Consulting with a sleep specialist to express concerns, difficulties, or seek further guidance is also an extremely effective way of ensuring that your sleep preparation is curtailed to your unique sleep struggles.

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