Since moving to Alaska, a lot of friends and family want to know “How do you handle the long, dark winters?”
Before moving north, we asked every Alaskan we knew for ways to prepare for the short days and long nights. Upon arrival, we started checking off our mental checklist:
Happy light? Check! These are super ultraviolet bulbs to sit in front of 30 min a day to prevent SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).
Large doses of vitamin D? Check!
South facing windows? Well, that depends on the house you live in (which is slim pick’ins in a village of 1000 people).
But no one ever talked about the other half of the year. You know, the half with extremely long days and almost non existent nights.
And how hard that would be.
It starts around the end of February, beginning of March. Because of how much the daylight is increasing, it looks like it should be getting warmer but at least another month or two of cold weather await us. This sort of plays a mean trick on your mind, making the itch for warmer weather almost unbearable.
It took us a few springs to realize a trend of me struggling around that time of the year. My anxiety and depression seemed more pronounced. Maybe spring was the problem, not just my emotional issues?? My mom once heard a doctor say that even a tiny amount of light in the room while sleeping can throw off your brain chemicals. It makes sense. It took us awhile to figure it out, but as the sun starts to rise each day, my brain starts waking up at 4am and I do not sleep as deeply. This in turn affected my emotional stamina during the day. As soon as we made this realization, we taped black garbage bags under our room darkening shades which hadn’t completely blocked the light.
I remember my friend saying, “My husband and I go crazy in the spring.” I’ve heard that more suicides happen in the spring in Alaska than any other time of year..
Now, put poor quality of sleep together with days upon days of tiredness and exhaustion from staying up too late at night. Let me just say, that it is really, really hard to go to bed at 11pm when it looks like it is 7pm. You start working on a project and realize that you forgot to put your kids to bed and it’s almost nine thirty. Oops! Several days of this and you and your kids feel really strung out and exhausted.
Going to bed takes a lot of discipline. It goes against everything in adulthood to go to bed while the sun is still pretty high in the sky. It brings me back to my childhood where I feel like a kid getting sent to bed early in the summer for disobeying. Jim and I routinely make a point of starting to close blinds even an hour before we want to be asleep so that we can trick our minds into thinking it’s nighttime. Otherwise, we can get in bed and not be able to fall asleep. Our brains still think it is daytime and take a while spooling down.
Our twelve year old son DJ started struggling with a lot of fears this spring. It took us awhile to figure it out but one day Jim said, “Marissa, your anxiety is always worse in the spring.”
DJ inherited my emotional make-up in a lot of ways so Jim realized that maybe he wasn’t sleeping as deeply either since we only had blinds up in his room. He slept at night, but the issue was with the quality of sleep. And it was starting to make things hard for him, harder than they needed to be. Jim drove to the store that same day and bought room darkening shades for DJ’s room. It’s been a few weeks and we have noticed a marked difference in DJ’s fears.
So, if you happen to visit Alaska in the summer, bring an eye mask!