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V 35 Issue 26

 
 
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Sleepless in Alaska
Sleepless in Alaska
by Rev. Barbara Allen, CMP - SGN Contributing Writer

People in Alaska, "Land of the Midnight Sun," natives and visitors alike, are often sleepless in the months surrounding the summer solstice when each day has almost 24 hours of light, as opposed to the winter months of almost 24 hours of darkness. The natives are attuned to and make good use of this. Tourists are not so attuned; but in order to thoroughly enjoy this area, can learn and compensate.

Light, or the absence of light, affects everyone's personal biological clocks, known as "Circadian Rhythms." Changes, both mental and physical can occur, such as body temperature, alertness, energy levels, hunger, obesity, metabolism, depression, jet lag, sleep and hormones.

We don't understand why bodies need sleep in order to restore themselves, or why people need eight hours of sleep, not two.

People who have sustained damage or trauma, such as stroke, head injury, etc. may wake and sleep with no set routine, which could lead to further problems.

Every day, the animal brain takes in light from the eyes, resetting the daily clock. Plants and microbes also display circadian rhythms.

In daily life, body temperature is the basic indicator of a healthy circadian clock, dropping lowest from 2 to 4 a.m., a time of deep rest, then rising towards morning wakefulness. Hormones also begin to flow at this time. For example, testosterone in men increases in the morning. (Juices literally start flowing.)

A challenged circadian system may cause jet lag as the body tries adapting to sunlight in a new time zone. Jet lag involves muscles and organs expending energy at a time when their internal clocks are trying to conserve it. Nothing in biological history prepares us for jet lag. Our body clocks help us conserve energy for when we really need it for digestion, exertion, but not all the time.

For Alaskans involved in the state's tourist industry, high summer may mean double daylight shifts, 7 days per week, in season, from mid May through the end of September. They often take advantage of virtually 24 hours of daylight by rarely sleeping and, after a few seasons, their metabolisms may change to accommodate this ancient cycle of survival.

During the dark winter, often illuminated by the Aurora Borealis, many enjoy other pursuits, such hunting, trapping, fishing--if the weather allows-or education, mushing, art work, and, for younger folk, lots of partying. Tourist involved Alaskans love to party hard in the winter time, and/or travel south!

While fruit trees, grape vines and other more temperate plants don't do well in Alaska's limited growing season between sub-freezing-temperatures from early fall until late spring, it's a misconception that they don't garden or produce great vegetables. While there are relatively few days above freezing in most areas, it's made up for by extended hours of sunshine and daylight. One of the unique events at the Fairbanks summer fair is the giant cabbage contest. I believe the 2006 entry was over 60 pounds!

Alaska is a wonderful place to visit in summer. As with many destinations, it's wise to be prepared. The same homeopathic over-the-counter remedies for jet lag may help tourists adjust to the midnight sun. Their time zone is an hour behind ours. Re-set your wrist watch and keep in mind that although it's still broad daylight, it might be midnight. Retire and rest accordingly. Keep the curtains drawn where you sleep and/or wear a soft comfortable black-out eye mask so daylight doesn't reach your eyes, open or closed. If you forget to bring one of these inexpensive "masks", it might be wise to get one at a local drug store. Upon arriving, eat close to your normal pattern, adjusting to local time in a day or two this way. You'll want to keep your energy high when visiting the last frontier, which offers beauty, nature, and experiences unavailable anywhere else.

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