Life in the Pededstrian Lane: To sleep, perchance

Many years ago, when I was much more impressionable than I am now, I read a book about the Far North. I can’t remember if it was Canada or Alaska, but among other things put forward by the author was the “fact” that people living in the Far North “hibernated.” Not a true hibernation, like we think of bears or frogs, but a simulated one that got them through the long, dark winters. During the cold, dark time, probably December and January, they would spend most of the time sleeping. Waking only to eat and drink, relieve themselves, and exercise minimally to keep from stiffening up. Then as the days became longer, they spent more time awake, until by March they were fully active again and ready to continue their lives.

I have no idea if this is true; however, extensive research on my part lends me to believe it is. Along about Thanksgiving, I find myself reluctant to get up in the dark. The holiday excitement keeps me jazzed and active for about a month, then I go to sleep and stay there until the paper boy can see the driveway when he throws the paper.

I’m not sure of the physiology of this, but it must have something to do with waning light. In the summer, I find myself up at all hours. If there is light in the sky, my eyes flash open and regardless of what my body is saying, my mind thinks it should be up and moving. No matter what I do, or how many sheep I count, I lie there at 2 a.m. planning the day, or reliving the last ten years, or spending the millions the last lottery dispensed (no I didn’t win it, but it’s fun to think about if I DID win it) until I can finally doze again for about half an hour. I’ve darkened the room, covered the windows, even worn eye shades, but sunlight means activity, no matter what the clock says.

As the calendar moves toward December and daylight becomes scarce, I start out with a nap before going to bed, then begin sleeping until the sun rises. Before long I am also taking an afternoon nap before my after dinner nap. By January, my alert hours are just about equal to the hours the sun is out. Probably don’t have to tell you that productivity during that time is pretty nil.

I know we all have stories about getting days and nights mixed up during the long summer days: going to sleep for an hour in the evening and waking about 8 or so and believing it is morning or bounding out of bed at 4 am thinking we’ve slept the day away. Well, the same problem can occur in the winter. By 5 o’clock in the afternoon it is the same blackness as 5 in the morning. Easy to be confused if you are awakened from a deep sleep.

Another thing I read just recently is the speculation that maybe humans are programmed to sleep in ‘shifts’. That is, for three or four hours, then be awake for an hour or so, then back to sleep again for a period of time. The article suggested that that may be the reason so many people wake in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep until time to get up. Sounded a little like convenient science to me, but it also suggested getting out of bed and reading, or sweeping the floor, or something minorly active for half an hour or so, then returning to bed and you’d probably go back to sleep. Possibly it works…I get up, use the bathroom, drink a cup of cocoa and go back to bed (ummmm … maybe my ancestors lived in the far north, too). That sometimes works for me.

My Palmer sister has a better solution. She convinced her husband that HIS life is much easier if she is not in Alaska in January/February, so they travel out of state to someplace warm and light for about a month at that time. I get early morning e-mails from her so I know she’s awake so it must work. The Anchorage sister suffers with SAD, but she’s a kid and is still working so she uses lights and activity when she can’t get away from the dark. Seems to work for her. Frankly, I don’t mind sleeping the darkness away, not that I’d mind going to Hawaii or Tahiti either, but Palmer Sis thought of it first and it only works once before the Hubbies get suspicious.

What brought this up today is no doubt you have noticed this is the Spring Ahead day. We change our clocks for daylight savings time. I’ve always maintained if we were really saving daylight, we could use it in January and February when we really need it. Our legislature made the move this year to dispense with it, but probably it won’t go anywhere for a number of reasons, but mostly because they’d have to get up an hour early to deal with the Lower 48.

Ummmmm? Move the clock ahead … get up an hour earlier? What am I missing here?

Virginia Walters lives in Kenai. Email her at

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