Staying Awake During Alaska’s Short Winter Days

A December sunrise in Anchorage lights up the sky and snowy treetops. At 9:45 a.m., I might add.

Every year, the discussion surrounding an impending switch from Daylight Savings to Standard time. We know it’s coming; my home in Anchorage, located in Alaska’s Southcentral region, begins losing as much as six minutes per day of precious light in October. Cities located farther north, like Fairbanks or Barrow, lose light, faster, and the residents of Barrow, Alaska, by the way, will soon bid the sun a winter farewell and welcome it back in early 2015.

Get outdoors, even if it means a short snowshoe party at your local park!

Get outdoors, even if it means a short snowshoe party at your local park!

New residents of Alaska, wintertime visitors, and those curious about winter in Alaska ask one question: “How the heck do we/you deal with this?”

After two sons and nearly 10 years of Alaska residency, plus the tenacity and dedication of parents before me, I have an answer, and a message.

Don’t let darkness prevent your family from living, working, or playing in the 49th state. It is not only possible, but probable, that your kids will have the time of their lives experiencing this dusky, cold, winter atmosphere for which Alaska is famous. Embrace it. Live it. Learn to love it.

Learning to love the dark winter days is a process. But once achieved, it's a great time to see the real Alaska.

Learning to love the dark winter days is a process. But once achieved, it’s a great time to see the real Alaska.

Here’s how: 

Get outdoors. Yes, you can. Bundle up, gather your light-emitting devices, and head out into the night. Anchorage offers miles and miles of lighted trail systems and parks perfect for skiing, walking, or sledding your merry way around town. Find a complete listing here, but consider our favorites: Goose Lake Park, Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, and Kincaid Park. Most elementary schools around Alaska also offer sledding hills, and even a round of neighborhood walking helps prevent the 4:30 p.m. sleepies.

Stick to your family routine. In a previous blog post, I shared some tips for sleeping during the summer months when all is light and sweetness and noise. Just reverse that during an Alaska winter, but with the same notion of routine. While an hour of difference may cause kids to be hungry or tired earlier than ever, in addition to the obvious starry night outside, sticking to a routine will only help the situation. Eat dinner at the same time, even while vacationing. Wake up at a regular time, or close to it. Fill empty minutes with a deck of cards, a board game, or an exploration of your hotel, if visiting. Resist the urge to watch television, play or view movies on tablets/laptops, etc.; we find the mood shifts toward cranky, very fast.

Find an activity or event. If ever there was a state who promoted efforts to keep families moving and grooving during the winter, it is Alaska. Events abound during the winter months, and city visitor bureaus can assist you with finding an activity or festival meeting your family’s needs. Try the North Pole Christmas in Ice, or Anchorage’s First Friday events (Bunny Boots and Burn Barrels is this Friday, FYI), or Sitka’s amazing Jazz Festival each February. Find a great listing of events on our website, here.

Be patient. Bodies need time to adjust to the feeling of eternal daylight, which might discourage those making vacation plans for the short-term. However, following the above guidelines, and keeping the faith will allow your family to discover what most Alaskans already know; nighttime is an amazing time. Look for more posts related to evening entertainment as we creep closer to the holidays.

Some places, like the Girdwood and Alyeska Resort areas, don't see much sun during the winter months. This photo was taken at around noon shortly before Winter Solstice on December 21.

Some places, like the Girdwood and Alyeska Resort areas, don’t see much sun during the winter months. This photo was taken at around 1 p.m. shortly before Winter Solstice on December 21.

Okay, most of the time my strategies work.

Okay, most of the time my strategies work.

 

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