On October 26, 2,000 residents of Earth’s northernmost town watched the sun set. The next time they’ll see it rise? Sometime in February.
In an attempt to lighten the Norwegian town’s mood about the forthcoming four months of night, Philips has launched a science experiment it calls “Wake Up the Town.” And anyone who's complained about the brief daylight hours in winter will want to know how it works.
Extended nighttime is an annual occurrence for the residents of Longyearbyen, Norway -- Earth’s northernmost town. Located at 78 degrees north latitude in the Arctic circle, Longyearbyen experiences a phenomenon called Polar Night, in which the town remains in perpetual darkness for four months each winter. The town’s inhabitants may be accustomed to waking up in the dark, but the lack of daylight has a substantial impact on their daily life and health.
“When I moved up here, I thought I knew a lot about the dark period,” 62-year-old resident Constance Andersen told FoxNews.com. Originally from Holland, Andersen moved to Longyearbyen in 1999 after becoming entranced with the scenery and history of the island. She loves where she lives but told FoxNews.com that her experience with the Polar Night has been getting worse and worse each year.
“I didn’t realize how hard it would actually be. The months we have ahead of us in Longyearbyen, it’s dark for the whole day and it really affects your life,” she said.
In an attempt to cut through the seemingly endless night, global electronics corporation Philips has distributed its latest product -- the Philips Wake-up Light -- to around 250 volunteers in the Arctic town. The product aims to help them wake up in the morning as well as improve their general way of life.
“There’s a lack of understanding about the benefits of waking up to light,” Alexandra Kedward, a global product manager at Philips, told FoxNews.com. “Our bodies are accustomed to being up with the sun. So through this initiative, we were looking to raise awareness of the importance of light therapy.”
The Wake-up Light essentially simulates the sunrise, gently increasing the amount of light in the room -- the body senses this and awakes naturally. So far, the volunteers have had their lights for only two and a half weeks, but Kedward expects the overall results to be overwhelmingly positive.
“We did ask the community of residents who were taking part to validate the experiment,” Kedward said. “Seventy-two percent of them told us that waking up is a struggle during the winter period, and 94 percent expected the Philips Wake-up Light to have a positive impact on their daily lives.”
Though Andersen and her neighbors live under very unique conditions, their struggles during the winter months highlight a common condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, also called winter depression. The symptoms of SAD are thought to be brought about by deprivation of light during the short winter days. Dr. Keith Ablow, a psychiatry correspondent for Fox News Channel, recommends the light boxes for his patients experiencing any kind of depression symptoms.
“I find that people should use these bright light boxes even during other seasons of the year,” Dr. Ablow said. “I think the number of hours we spend outside is very limited now, and in my anecdotal experience, many of the depressed people I treat experience some level of improvement by using a bright light therapy device each day.”
Andersen’s experience with her own light box certainly echoes this sentiment. Some years, Andersen would travel during the winter months so as to have a more illuminated experience, but after having used the Wake-up Light, she says she’ll definitely stay for another dark period.
“I thought it could actually help, and it does,” said Andersen. “I was much crankier last year in the beginning, but now I feel more awake during the day and not so tired. It’s a fantastic experience so far.”
And the experience isn’t just limited to those who live in the town. The experiment goes one step further by incorporating film and social networking elements to connect Longyearbyen’s residents to the rest of the globe. Internet users can follow the progress of the town and communicate with the participants up until their next sunrise.
Andersen says that for such a remote town in which polar bears outnumber residents, the connection to the outside world is really inspiring.
“It’s nice because this place is so special, and of course we like to talk about our island and this Wake-up Light,” said Andersen. “It’s a real life study that cannot happen anywhere else in the world.”