It’s one of the first questions asked by non-Alaskans. “How do you ever get to sleep during the summer months?” which leads, then, to “How will I ever get my kids to sleep when we come visit you?”
Ah, yes, sleep in the Land of Midnight Sun. I’ll never forget my first visit to Alaska: we arrived in Anchorage at 3 p.m., rented our wreck of a conversion van, stopped by Safeway, and drove to Fairbanks. It was still light when we arrived at midnight, and the odd sight of a deserted city in what looked like early evening further boggled our already jittery, sleep-deprived minds. For ten days, my companion and I struggled to maintain any sort of sleep schedule but failed miserably, mostly because the folks we encountered at the various campgrounds along the way were also failing miserably. Who would’ve thought that twenty years later I’d be not only living the Midnight Sun, I’d be writing joyously about it? There’s an old saying in Alaska: We’re tired in the winter because it’s dark all the time, and we’re tired in the summer because it’s light all the time. We know how to work it, baby. I’m an Alaskan parent, and I know all about the sleep struggles from April-August, so pull on your shades and slap on some sunscreen, because I’m gonna tell you how we do it….
Alaska’s perpetual summertime sunlight depends largely upon where your family chooses to visit. We’re a big state, and while we all manage to function within the same time zone (crazy, I know), we do have different amounts of daylight. For example, the good folks of Barrow near the Arctic Circle will see the sun hang out all day and night on June 21st (Solstice), and the darned thing won’t really fall below the horizon. Try telling kids to be home by dark on that night, eh? Fairbanks and other Interior communities are just behind that, with Anchorage finding plenty of sunlight well past 11:30 p.m. until early August, when somehow the darkness seems to creep up faster than we are ready.
Visiting Alaska with kids can present special challenges. While most 49th state children do have parents who believe in some form of bedtime, the novelty of playing outside at 10:30 p.m. as a temporary resident is, no matter how you slice it, pretty freaking awesome. Usually, however, after one or two nights of little sleep combined with the excitement of Alaskan adventures and travel, both kids and parents are ready for a little solid shut-eye. AK Fam, then, offers you weary mommies and daddies a few tips for sleep success in Alaska:
1. Bring back the routine. If you have a familiar routine at home, stick to it on vacation. Or, at least, try. Read stories, have a bath, snuggle under the covers somewhere near the usual bedtime at home. Close shades and curtains, shut down the electronics, and lower voices.
2. Speaking of shades.…Check with your place of lodging to ensure the presence of “blackout” shades/curtains. Almost every hotel/motel/cabin/B&B will offer blackout shades, but check anyway; these heavy swatches of material are a godsend. No shades? Ask for extra blankets (not sheets) to cover windows. In an RV? Same thing (we’ll talk RV’s in a minute).
3. Try music to soothe wiggly souls. We have a playlist of mellow tunes that AK Kid simply loves to hear while falling asleep. Vivaldi, Brahams, lullabies, whatever works for you. Sometimes fairy tales can do the same thing, just make sure they aren’t the scary ones…Older kids can listen to a book recording while they drift off.
4. Renting an RV and utilizing a campground/RV park? Ask about quiet times and quieter areas of the park/campground. Take a family walk before beginning the bedtime routine, and start preparations as for hotel rooms. Ask the RV rental company for windshield shades and about the curtain dividing the cockpit from sleeping areas. If kids struggle to fall asleep right away, keep at it. Answer their whiny “But whyyyyy do we have to go to bed when nobody else is?” with “So you can go on the wildlife cruise/ATV tour/hike/etc tomorrow!” Smile a lot.
5. Be ready for early risers, too. Oh yeah, we forgot to mention that the sun comes up pretty early, too. Like 4 a.m. Have a stash of books, coloring materials, and more songs/stories for those who wake up early. Our family has a 7 a.m. out-of-sleeping-bag rule (but that’s just us).
The good news? After a day or two of getting used to this all-light-no-darkness thing, most kids will conk out pretty quickly, especially after engaging in all the wonderful activities available in Alaska. It’s a novelty, this, so do let them experience some of the Midnight Sun at some point (like the night before you go home). After all, that’s part of the reason you came up here, isn’t it?