How do you sleep at night?! (Or: The MacGyver solution to Estonia’s white nights)

This morning, sunrise was at 4:12am. Sunset will be at 10:27pm. First light and last light were at 2:52am and 23:48 respectively.

And we’re still two weeks away from the longest day of the year.

So how do I sleep at night?

It was a multi-phase process.

Phase 1: Do nothing

There are pale cream curtains in my room (unlined). While they keep the prying eyes of our neighbours at bay when I’m changing, they have no light-blocking benefits. When it did get dark at night, I could easily navigate without the lights on using the glow of the street lights outside. During the day, it didn’t make a difference whether I had them opened or closed.

At first I thought things might not be so bad. I moved in in September and I survived – surely the few months in the middle of the year wouldn’t be that different?

Oh I laugh at how young and innocent I once was.

The days had been getting longer for months, and in March I realised I might have a problem. By April, I was waking up at 4am to the sun streaming in on my face. And, while it’s nice to suddenly have extra hours in your day, there isn’t a lot to do at 4am on a Tuesday.

Once I had exhausted YouTube’s offerings, I knew it was time to take action.

Phase 2: Blackout curtains

Like many things in Tallinn, I wasn’t clear on where to buy blackout curtains.* Fortunately, the internet saved me and I ordered some online, which had arrived and were hung one week later.

The difference was immediate – the lined curtains didn’t let any light through. Where the material hung, it was dark.

My room, though, was not so dark. Because even though the light couldn’t get through the material, it flooded around the material. Rays of light burst through the top of the curtains, streams flooded through the bottom and fingers clawed their way around the sides. Despite having blackout curtains, once it got light outside I could read in my room, even when they were closed.

Phase 3: Optimised blackout curtains

Before going to bed, I started tucking my curtains in around the window. The hem got bunched up on the windowsill. The sides were tucked into the window box. And across the top I tried to balance a collection of scarves.

There was still some light coming in – breaking through the crack between the two curtains, the the space between the rings and the curtain rod, the top of the curtains where my scarves couldn’t cover – but it was an improvement.

Until I needed to adjust the curtains or open my window – then the scarves came crashing around and the sun started sending wake up signals to my brain.

Phase 4: MacGyver the darkness into submission

At this time it was time to get my hands dirty. It was time to involve garbage bags.

Now there is a single layer of garbage bags taped to every square centimetre of glass. I then tuck the curtains into the edges of the window box, and my room achieves an approximation of darkness, to the extent where I can’t even read when the curtains are closed!

It’s not perfect – I do like to leave the window open, which means some light can still get in through the gap at the top of the curtains, but I generally wake up between 5am and 6am now, which is a big improvements.

Now I just need to do something about the light coming in under my door from the living room….

*One of the Estonians at my work said that Estonians don’t use blackout curtains. “We like the sun,” she said. “We don’t want to block it out.”

My theory is that it’s such a rare thing that they need to bask in it while it lasts.

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