Alaskans eager for long night’s journey into day
Extended night would be very tough.
“ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Lloyd Leavitt shrugs off the subzero freeze that blankets the Arctic town of Barrow each winter. It’s the weeks of endless night that get to him, filling him with insatiable cravings for carbohydrates and sleep and natural light.
“There comes a time when you don’t know if it’s morning or evening. You get confused,” said Leavitt, who has lived all his 49 years in the nation’s highest-latitude community.
No wonder residents here anticipate the winter solstice Wednesday, the shortest day of the year and the psychological turning point toward spring.
Leavitt has plenty of company when it comes to dealing with Alaska’s dark side. Yes, winter brings shorter days in other states as well, along with extreme cold. But Alaska is the U.S. vortex of seasonal blues.
The sun won’t rise again in Barrow for another month after the solstice. For Leavitt and others in the largely Inupiat Eskimo town of 4,500, it marks the countdown to daylight.
In the meantime, Leavitt floods his home with rainbow-colored Christmas lights.
“They keep the spirits up,” he said.
Winter is a drag to some extent for one out of five Americans, studies suggest. A smaller fraction — mostly women and young adults — suffer from seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression stemming from decreased daylight.
Nearly 10 percent of Alaskans suffer from SAD to some degree, according to a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 1992; in sunny Florida, the rate is only about 1 percent.
SAD symptoms include lethargy, a heightened desire for sleep, cravings for carbohydrates, feelings of melancholy, fuzzy thinking and loss of libido or sociability, said Suzanne Womack Strisik, an assistant psychology professor at the University of Alaska at Anchorage. She’s also a practicing psychologist in the state’s largest city, where daylight has dwindled to 5 1/2 hours by the solstice.”