What a trip to the Arctic taught me about feeling awake and energized

I was pretty far north. Check out Google Maps if you don’t believe me. Photo: Antonius Wiriadjaja

Only 800 miles removed from the North Pole, Longyearbyen is the northernmost town in the world. It’s so far north that trees cannot grow, residents carry guns for polar bears, and the sun doesn’t set for nearly four months of the year.

When I had the opportunity to visit last year, I was mainly worried about the polar bears. What I didn’t expect was the impact of the constant summer daylight on my body. I expected to feel tired and jetlagged during my one-week stay. Instead, I was shocked at how amazing I felt.

I felt more energized and awake than ever

The Arctic summer was not only mesmerizing to see in person, but I also quickly noticed how energized I had become. I felt oddly awake and alert all day, all the time.

I have no clue when this photo of my campsite was taken. It could have been 3:00pm or 3:00am.

I didn’t feel an afternoon slump and had much more energy in the early evening than normal. Normally I need 8 hours of sleep to be myself. In Svalbard, I felt well-rested with 6 hours.

I had plenty of physical endurance, too, and was able to do a 13-mile mountain hike with no problem.

Despite having more energy and sleeping less, I had no trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.

There was no beginning, end or middle of the day. I felt like I could do anything at any time. It didn’t feel weird — it was oddly amazing.

And then I wondered, “Is this normal?”

Yes, this happens to everyone in the Arctic

It wasn’t just me.

During one research study in Nunavut, participants slept an astounding 50 minutes less in the summer compared to the winter. Other studies in Germany and Iceland have reached similar conclusions: more sunlight makes us sleep less.

Unfortunately, no study has examined how people actually feel during these periods of less sleep. So I turned to Quora. A number of Scandinavian and Arctic residents responded:

“What is it like to live in places with 24 hours of full daylight or darkness?”
“Long story short: It feels amazing!”
“ In one Word: it makes you feel alive!

Most Quora users reported the same experience as me: For the entire summer, they felt oddly awake and energized.

What if you could make every day like this?

After arriving home in Berlin, I missed the 24-hour days because of the feeling of unlimitedness they provided.

Arctic residents have long used light therapy lamps that mimic sunlight to feel more wake during long dark winters. Could the same technology be used at lower latitudes to help the rest of us enjoy longer days?

This was part of my inspiration for founding Lark. We’re building a lamp that simulates sunlight to hopefully solve a number of common wakefulness issues, including trouble waking up, winter depression, and jet lag.

Lark simulates sunlight to boost wakefulness. This is me editing a few photos from my trip.

We don’t think it’s healthy or normal to spend four months without seeing darkness. But we do know that most people spend their days indoors away from natural light. We believe that extended daylight, when used properly, can make people more productive and improve their wellbeing.

I’ve recently used our prototype to help stay up late and work in the evenings. Lark will feature the same 10,000 LUX output as traditional SAD light therapy lamps. I intend to use it more when fall arrives to prevent the winter blues. I will bring it with me to minimize jet lag on my next trip to New York.

In the meantime, I’m curious if anyone else has had similar experiences or issues our product could solve. We’re currently accepting early access sign-ups for our first batch of units and hope to conduct an alpha test this summer.