I will never forget our family’s first Alaskan camping trip. Toddler and a ‘tween in tow, we drove northeast to scenic Lake Louise and a campground oozing with an abundance of activities we were certain would keep our then-toddler and tween hopping from dawn to dark. Except that there was no dark and subsequently, no sleep for AK Dad and I.
There’s a saying that Alaskans are tired in the winter because it is dark, and tired in the summer because it is light. Sound crazy? Perhaps in our own sunshine-deprived way, we are, but imagine the long, cold, dark winters without much more than six or so hours of true daylight; even less the farther North one travels. By the time summer solstice arrives, Alaskans are ready to party, and that includes the kids.
In a state flush with outdoor opportunities, it’s no wonder bedtimes receive a little leeway when there is so much fun going on. School is out, the fish are running, and a wealth of campgrounds and lodges beckon city-weary moms and dads to greener forests and clear, flowing water. Sleep? What’s that? According to a number of Alaskan families who weighed in, sleep is highly overrated during the short summer season. That said, however, AKontheGO did receive a number of valuable suggestions from adults who have been down the “should-we-or-shouldn’t-we” path of vacation bedtimes. Below are a few ideas for helping kids relax, unwind, and perhaps even catch a few winks before an early Alaskan sunrise beckons them from their cozy nests:
- Allow for “wind-down” time. It’s hard snoozing when the rest of the campground or resort is still wide-awake, but taking a few extra minutes to establish an atmosphere of quiet before snuggling down can be worth the effort. Sit by the campfire, soak in the hot tub, read a story over some hot chocolate, or sing some mellow camp songs; this sends children’s bodies and brains the signal that it’s time to settle down.
- Don’t be afraid of the dark. Laugh if you must, but AK Dad swears by his little eyeshades, often supplied by hotel chains, airlines, and many Alaskan hotels. He wears them to bed May through August, and has our son wearing them, too, especially when we are camping. Silly? Nothing silly about a rested family, unless someone has a camera. Seriously, finding a way to transform dusk into dark does trigger sleep, and most kids, especially babies, instinctually know this. No shades? Try an extra blanket over RV or tent windows (a pack of clothespins is helpful), and ask hotels if they provide blackout shades in all rooms.
- Stick to your guns, but be flexible. I was so adamant on that first camping trip about an early bedtime for our toddler, I spent three hours trying to get the child to sleep, time that could have been better spent running him up and down the campground road until he collapsed from exhaustion. On subsequent trips, I allowed my older son the luxury of his own tent in which to read or play quiet travel games, falling asleep at his leisure. Our youngest was allowed to take a walk with us before “helping” to lay out his sleeping bag each night. Sure, they went to bed later, but happier. If bedtime is a priority for your family, plan ahead and make sure children have plenty of physical activity, food, and interaction if you’re expecting adherance to a rigid bedtime routine.
Don’t worry if your kids appear a bit sleep-deprived after an Alaskan vacation. After all, thousands of children before them survived, and continue to thrive, in this beautiful and unique land. A little extra daylight won’t hurt.