Land of the Midnight Sun (How’s a fella going to sleep with all this light?)

I took this sunset picture in Anchorage on June 9th. In the sign you can see the time is 11:15 pm and the sun has just gone below the horizon. Right now, the sun is setting at 11:40 pm at night.

I took this sunset picture in Anchorage on June 9th. In the sign you can see the time is 11:15 pm and the sun has just gone below the horizon. Right now, the sun is setting at 11:40 pm at night.

When driving this far north in the summer, what stands out more than anything else is the amount of daylight—it’s non-stop light! I don’t mean an extra hour or two, I mean it never gets totally dark—even on rainy cloudy days. At first it’s just an oddity but after a little while you’ll look at your clock and it’ll be 10:30 PM and the sun is nowhere near set and you’ll be amazed!

I don’t know if it affects everyone this way, but we just naturally found our bodies adjusting to the cycle of the sun. You don’t even think about going to bed until it’s dark and it’s not dark until midnight, so we didn’t think about going to bed before then. Gradually we started going to bed later and later and before long we found ourselves going to bed at 1:30 AM or later. We put up our Reflectix at “night” so the van stayed somewhat dark in the morning and we usually sleep in till 10:00 at the earliest every morning. It’s very strange!

At the same time I took the shot above of the suset I took this one of the rainbow. Remember, it's 11:00 pm at night! Notice the two guys going by on their bikes and another guy walking; also lots of traffic on the rod. Time means nothing to Alaskans in the summer!

At the same time I took the shot above of the sunset I took this one of the rainbow. Remember, it’s 11:00 pm at night! Notice the two guys going by on their bikes and another guy walking; also lots of traffic on the rod. Time means nothing to Alaskans in the summer! Also notice fresh snow on the mountains on June 9th!

All the extra light happened gradually as we drove north because we didn’t cover a lot of miles each day. By northern Montana it was very noticeable, although it still got dark. A week later when we got to Whitehorse, Yukon Territories, for all practical purposes it stopped getting dark at all. To be clear, the sun does set and goes below the horizon; you have to go all the way to the Arctic Circle (66 2/3 north latitude) before the sun actually is visible for 24 hours and never goes below the horizon. In Anchorage (at 61 degrees north latitude, for comparison Seattle is at 47 degrees north latitude) the sun sets at about 11:40 PM and you don’t see it again until 4:20 AM when it rises. Even though the sun has set, it doesn’t get dark, more like an all-night “dusk.”

The reason it never gets dark is that even after it has set the sun stays up so close to the horizon that its light is refracted through the atmosphere and actually bends enough so some of it gets back above the horizon. The bottom line is that it’s light enough that you don’t need a flashlight to walk around outside. As a test I went outside at midnight and had no problem reading the smallest print on my atlas.

 I took this picture of fisherman at the lagoon at midnight to demonstrate how much light there is and how Alaskans our out playing all night in the summer. You can't really see them but there were more than a dozen people fishing in this picture.


I took this picture of fisherman at the lagoon at midnight to demonstrate how much light there is and how Alaskans our out playing all night in the summer. You can’t really see them but there were more than a dozen people fishing in this picture.

Of course having lived here all my life, this was nothing new to me, I’ve seen it all before! But it’s been 8 years and I must admit I’m taken back by it. Of course the Alaskans are used to it so they are out at all hours of the night playing. Where we’re camped at Homer there is a lagoon across the street from us that was designed for local fisherman. So what many people do is get off work, have dinner, watch TV, tuck the kids into bed, and then go fishing! To demonstrated that, I took a picture at midnight of about 20 people fishing at the lagoon. Amazingly, none of them had a flashlight of any kind and there was enough light for the fish to see the bait!

Her's another shot from the lagoon at midnight. Notice that the second guy from the left is tying a knot on his hook without a flashlight at midnight! Moments before I had watched him bring in a nice salmon.  I couldn't get a picture of them, but there were two seals swimming around in the lagoon.

Here’s a shot from the lagoon at midnight. Notice that the second guy from the left is tying a knot on his hook without a flashlight at midnight! Moments before I had watched him bring in a nice salmon. I couldn’t get a picture of them, but there were two seals swimming around in the lagoon.

When I worked nights in Alaska and slept during the day, I got used to wearing a sleep mask so I could sleep even when it’s light. That’s something you may want to pick up before you head north in the summer. Most stores sell them in the health and beauty section with the eye care products. You’re also going to want your Refectix to seal your windows against light as well as it can. Because of the light, Alaskans are more active at “night” than most places. If the noise bothers you, you might want to consider ear plugs or an alarm with a white noise generator. I had kids when I worked nights and the kids are noisy so I learned to sleep with the “wind” sound of a nature-sound alarm clock. It’s just white noise to me. In fact I was so used to it that I had to have it at night to sleep for several years after I retired and left Alaska. If I’m in a noisy place I’ll still turn it on. I also have an inverter with a noisy fan and if it’s too noisy for me to sleep I’ll turn it on close to my head and go right to sleep.

 at the end of the lagoon is a fish cleaning station with a dumpster for the scraps. There were hundreds of sea fulls there all the time and also lots of bald eagles. I took a picture of this immature bald eagle waiting for scraps after i took those above--again, at midnight.


At the end of the lagoon is a fish cleaning station with a dumpster for the scraps. There were hundreds of sea gulls there all the time and also lots of bald eagles. I took a picture of this immature bald eagle waiting for scraps after I took those above–again, at midnight.

Bob
About

I've been a full-time VanDweller for 12 years and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again!

10 comments on “Land of the Midnight Sun (How’s a fella going to sleep with all this light?)
  1. It’s the early summer sunrise that bugs me. I’m sorry, I’m not getting up at 5AM. (Well, maybe to pee.) So I drape my towel over my head to get a couple more hours of sleep.

    Of course, the flip side of the Alaskan Midnight Sun is all that depressing winter darkness. I lived two winters in Canada and I was nearly suicidal from shortage of daylight.
    Al Christensen recently posted…Well, good morning to you, tooMy Profile

  2. Aksana says:

    use the sleep mask

  3. Calvin R says:

    I think I could cope with this now that I have a CPAP. It would be interesting, and I never really thought about sleep under the midnight sun. I like sunrises enough that I think I’d sleep early and get up enough to see the sunrise. Apparently Alaskan sleep hours are a matter of choice.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Calvin, the sunrise is a dissapointment. It’s fully light before the sun rises so it’s as dramatic. I worked nights for a long time and saw many sunrises and they were rarely special.
      Bob

  4. Opa says:

    Midnight Sun I can live with. There was always a dark room to sleep in. It is the long hours of darkness in the winter I never got used to. Very depressing

    • Bob Bob says:

      Opa, you are so right! When people ask me why I left Alaska my first answer is always the oppressive darkness! And that is the main reason.
      Bob

  5. Openspaceman says:

    Bob_

    FYI… I met a young lady who is flying into Anchorage next week with (44) 6th graders from Wisconsin for eleven days. They all individually worked to raise the money for their trip (pretty impressive).

    *Anyway she had some mosquito questions…so I told her and her crew to check out your blog and to please comment…hope you don’t mind.

    **So get ready for some fun questions.

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