Sleep and the Midnight Sun (MAG)


marvidlWe now see daylight. After months of darkness, Iceland now has a clear sunrise and signs of spring are in the air. Klara, a nurse I work with came back with a handful of green and fresh grass after a short walk with a patient and of course, the first migratory birds have arrived.

For me, the first signs of summer include the influx of manic patients. Of course, this is entirely anecdotal on my part (there is absolutely no evidence yet that this is so) but in my mind, there are more patients who seek help for mania as the summer approaches.

There are many kinds of mania. For the purposes of discussion, mania is defined here as a sustained elevated mood where someone is easily irritated, has flights of fancy and grandiose ideas, impulsive behavior, pressure to keep talking, easy distractability and markedly decreased need for sleep (or remains awake for days). I don’t want to talk about mania now. However, I want to explore how the regulation of the sleep cycle takes up a greater part of its treatment.

Sleep deprivation is a trigger for a manic episode. Where I work, a full night’s sleep often has miraculous effects. Sometimes, someone who has not slept for days comes in thinking he or she is god or has been shouting obscenities at family members. After a pharmacologically induced rest, the person wakes up normal. Often though, we are just happy if a patient wakes up with better insight into his or her behavior.

I am not saying that Icelandic people are prone to manic episodes during summer. What I hope that people watch out for is that if they plan on visiting or moving to Iceland, keep in mind that sleep regulation is important.

I arrived in Iceland on the day of the summer solstice. The sun did not set and I did not sleep. I thought at first that this was due to jetlag. But well into the second month of arriving, I was always tired, sleepy (yawning at staff meetings) and slow.

I quickly found out that Icelanders have very simple solutions to this problem. The simplest is to buy light-blocking window shades. Once my sleep cycle got sorted out, I quickly embraced longer days. It was now possible to go fishing after the evening shift (which ends around 11:30 pm.) and to meet friends in town for a drink.

Many of my Icelandic friends tolerate sleep deprivation very well. In fact, I would think that when summer comes around, we tend to overbook our calendars in order to take advantage of longer days. Last summer, I know of one colleague who always had something going on everyday. Be it barbecue parties, group hikes, bar hopping or just meeting her sewing club friends, she was doing something every second there was daylight. She explains it very simply. It was just an opportunity to break out after the long dark, winter months.

This I understood since Iceland’s dark winters are hard on me (too much melatonin). That however, is another story.

This is just a simple heads up. Summer in Iceland can be absolutely magical and fantastic. Where else can you go golfing after midnight? However, keep a close eye on how much you sleep. It could save your sanity.

Marvi Ablaza Gil – [email protected]

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.