Winter days in Finland are short. Down South in Helsinki day length is 5 hours 50 minutes at its shortest, in deep December. After all, different from Copenhagen which is geographically not really Nordic at all, Helsinki is on the same latitude as Oslo, Kamchatka, Quebec, and Shetland Islands.
I thought of this when I took a walk on Boxing Day at 2 pm and the sun was nearing the horizon. In Copenhagen the length of day never goes below 7 hours and it is noticeable: there is always light or near-light at 8 am. And the cold; do not speak of the cold. I firmly believe it physically wears me out as my muscles involuntarily contract and shiver to keep me warm. Proper outdoor wear or not.
You may wonder why I write about this year after year (or you may already have stopped reading, bored). But I truly feel I was born unequipped to handle the darkness and the coldness that surrounds this part of the world 2/3 of the year. While Denmark is not exactly central Europe, I still feel a significant difference in my energy levels throughout this winter. Just like I did when I lived in the UK and in the Netherlands.
The ayurveda doctor I once consulted on Bali let me in on two secrets: firstly, I am physically an early riser. I found it difficult to believe as I could easily sleep until 11 am, but he was right: I went to bed too late, missed out on the optimal time of night to obtain deep sleep, and woke up too late and too tired to ever consider myself a morning lark. Secondly, he told me I sleep too much. “Eight hours of sleep time is enough. Eight and a half if you are stressed. Absolutely never more than nine”. The trick was, he told me, to “sleep less and rest awake more”.
After spending some time resisting this counter-intuitive advice, I decided to try it out. I began to go to bed by 9.30 pm and 10 pm the latest, instead of my usual 11-11.30 pm. And I set my alarm exactly 9 hours later, to allow for 8+ hours of sleep time. BOOM. What a difference. I began to spend my early mornings and time before bed writing, reading, crafting, meditating. Suddenly there was also time to rest while awake.
This was not just an experiment. Two and a half years later I am still continuing my new ways: going to bed by 10 pm on those nights when I do not travel late, waking up before 8 am (also in the weekends!), and spending more calm time. But the most significant difference is still Danish daylight.
(Helsinki and Brande; December 2018 and February 2019)