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!
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.
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!
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.