Trying to sleep yourself isn’t the greatest challenge you’ll face in the midnight light. No, the true challenge is getting small children to sleep. The clock proves that bedtime has been and gone. It’s effectively been postponed hour after hour, but they’re still excited, full of energy, and their eyes sparkle mischievously: “But it’s still light outside!”. The worst thing is that this all starts in April and continues until August.
The midnight light is one of the marvellous things you experience when you live here or come to visit. These extra hours of light make gardens and meadows explode with spring and summer blossom during the intense summer months. The light that makes it possible to put shoes on and go for a midnight walk with a baby who refuses to sleep, or sit outside a tent on a mountain meadow just to enjoy the buzzing stillness on your own – the animals are most active at night. And this light lets us lose ourselves in nocturnal fly-fishing sessions by a river somewhere until mist lightly dancing across the water’s surface finally reveals how late – or early – it really is.
The midnight light lets us forget that we're old and wise.
The fact is that our brains work a little bit like that four-year-old. When Common Sense tells us it’s approaching bedtime because tomorrow is another day, the brain answers with that four-year-old’s mix of bewilderment and defiance: “But it’s still light outside!”. And sometimes Feeling can’t help but interfere: “And I’m having way too much fun!”. That’s when the midnight light lets us forget that we’re old and wise, and we sit and talk and laugh by the barbeque well into the small hours.
How to sleep
What about those times when Common Sense prevails, then? Well… speaking as someone who grew up in, lives in, and go travelling in the land of the midnight light, I’ve had the dubious privilege of trying out various ways of shutting out the light to get a few hours of sleep.
Trying to hang a heavy woollen blanket, or duvet, over the corners of the window frame: check. Joy is finding a couple of nails there! Putting a mattress against the window: check. Sellotaping a sheet to the window panes, pulling a hat over my eyes, crawling deeper down into the sleeping bag or drinking too much wine: check. Yes – most of these work, at least for a while. But I’ve also experienced having to get out of bed to re-hang that woollen blanket or waking up because that same blanket has decided to fall down and knock a lamp or a candle over. Or starting to sweat because a sleeping bag is both hot and airtight if you pull it over your head.
Embrace the midnight sun
Luckily most camping cabins and hotel rooms provide blackout curtains and blinds, an effective way of keeping the light out where it belongs. Shutters are the best way I’ve found to transform a room bathed in light into a place where you can’t see your own hand in front of you. And if nothing else works: try an eye mask. Suppose you’re ok sleeping with one.
Perhaps drinking too much wine shouldn’t be recommended. Unless it’s that special occasion, that “But it’s still light outside and I have way too much fun!” time. That’s when it’s appropriate to enjoy the moment a bit more, to be a teenager again and spend time with others around the barbeque, listening to the cry of the black-throated loon as the morning mist lets you know how late – or early – it really is.
The term midnight sun refers to the phenomenon of the consecutive 24 hours of sunlight north of the Arctic Circle. Locations where the sun is less than 6–7 degrees below the horizon experience midnight twilight instead, so that daytime activities, such as reading, are still possible without an artificial light on a clear night. Also known as ‘white nights’ or ‘midnight light’.