The dark age - Monocolumn | Monocle


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7 December 2011

If you live in Utsjoki, the northernmost village in the entire EU, there are a few consumer items that are more important to you than others. The two top ones on your list are probably a seriously thick coat and one of those lamps that simulate daylight.

Sunglasses, on the other hand, can safely be stored in their box for now. Just over a week ago, this village on the border of Norway and Finland entered the period Finns call kaamos: for the next five weeks, the sun won’t rise at all. There are a few daily hours of dim light, but they resemble a clear, moonlight night more than an actual day. The residents now have their sights set on mid-January, when the calendar promises a whole two minutes of sunlight.

In Southern Finland, the situation is a bit better. This week, Helsinki gets six hours of sunlight per day. But the sun doesn’t rise until 09.00, which means that many people travel to work in pitch-black darkness or in the yellow gloom of the streetlights. By 3 o’clock the sun is gone again, and people leave for home, get children from day care and wait for the bus in darkness, darkness, darkness. We live – or rather, exist – entirely in artificial light.

No wonder then that the seasonal affective disorder, known as the winter blues, is common in these latitudes. Experts believe that 10 to 30 per cent of Finns suffer from its effects, which include extreme fatigue, sugar cravings and concentration difficulties. In other words: we oversleep, overeat and daydream at work. But as many people there are suffering from SAD, there are ways to battle it.

Here’s the good news: experts say that the bright light lamps do work, which is a much cheaper way of treating depression than seeing a therapist once a week for three months. Caution is required, though: an overdose of light in the evening leaves you feeling perky instead of sleepy. Wolfing down chocolate, saffron buns, bananas and beer is far less recommendable, though.

Odds are that when the sun returns again in March, you’ll get depressed about the inhumane diet required to get back in bikini shape. D-vitamin and fish oil are harmless and may help, but what doctors most often order is exercise, preferably outdoors and during the light hours. 
In addition to the official, clinically proven survival strategies, there are some that may lack empirical evidence but simply feel pretty nice.

They include getting that seriously thick coat from a seriously expensive store, standing under a hot shower for 15 minutes and stocking up on great magazines to read in front of a roaring fire. And don’t forget to keep those sunglasses at close reach – after all, March is only 12 short weeks away.


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