For people in Iceland, this natural phenomenon is a normal part of life. For one month of the year every year, the country basks in sunshine for up 21 hours of the day, peaking around the Summer Solstice on the 21st of June.
In fact, between the sunset and sunrise, it never goes fully dark. Instead, a civil twilight, where the sun remains just a few degrees below the horizon, ensures there’s enough light outside for people to carry on with their day. This is known as the ‘midnight sun’, a stunning natural phenomenon which only occurs in countries near the North or South Pole, including Iceland, Norway, Canada and Russia.
What causes this?
The midnight sun is caused by the tilt of the Earth’s axis towards the sun during summer, which in turn creates a longer day.
In winter, the reverse is true, with even shorter days and nights that never seem to end. And the closer you are to the Arctic or Antarctic Circle, the more drastic the change will be between summer and winter. In Tromso, the largest town in northern Norway, people experience two months of continuous sun in the summer and two months of darkness in the winter.
How do people manage to sleep when it never goes dark?
To outsiders, this bizarre concept of day and night poses many questions as the rising and setting of the sun guides so much of our lives, helping regulate our body clocks and telling us when to wake and go to sleep.
In places like Iceland, people need more help in maintaining these routines due to the contrast in daylight from season to season.
As a result, many Icelanders take advantage of the long summer days by spending time outside and exercising, helping tire the body naturally so they can sleep.
Eye masks are also vital, and many Icelandic homes make use of blackout curtains to help them sleep during the summer months.
Dealing with the dark nights
And just as constant light is feature of Icelandic summers, the dark nights never seem to end during the winter. In the middle of December, a typical day lasts just 4 hours, with the sun rising at 11.22am and setting just after 3.29pm. This often takes a toll on residents, with many Icelanders finding the winter more difficult to adjust to than the midnight sun, as the lack of sunlight can cause constant tiredness and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). As a result, many people make use of light boxes to help combat the dark, gloomy days. This is because the artificial light can help trick the body into following a “typical” day and night routine.
The relentless darkness of winter means Icelanders experience most of it under the constant glow of streetlights, which remain lit throughout the season until the days get lighter and the midnight sun comes back around.