December 21, 2017
As winter sets in, one of the real delights of the season is to sink into a cozy pile of blankets and enjoy being warm in your bed. We have things pretty good here in the modern world, with plump mattresses, soft pillows and access to a thermostat to make sure our bedrooms are toasty and perfect for sleeping.
That said, what would it be like to live in the great frozen North? Just how does a person get a good night’s rest in an igloo, anyway?
It turns out that sleeping in an igloo is more comfortable than you might think.
The Inuit people of Alaska and Canada — called “Eskimos” by French settlers — have a practical grasp of thermodynamics that allows igloos to be a good 70 degrees warmer inside than it is outdoors on a frigid winter night.
First, igloos are built not of ice but of bricks made of compressed snow. This system allows for plenty of miniscule air pockets in those bricks, so they act as both walls and insulation to hold in the heat.
Next, igloos are bigger on the inside. They are built by digging down below the surface of the snowy landscape, so a good portion of the living space is underground and therefore sheltered from the wind.
This is another important trick to help hold in the heat: the doorways are actually entrances to a tunnel that leads down to the living space of the igloo, and these are positioned away from the prevailing winds to keep out drafts. A sealskin curtain also acts as a windbreak at the entrance.
Inside the igloo, the living space is usually tiered. There are typically raised platforms made of packed snow that can be used for seating and as a bed. Sleeping up a bit higher allows Inuit people to enjoy the warmest place in the igloo — heat rises, remember? The platforms are covered with branches and piles of additional sealskins and other blankets to create a soft, cozy nest. These materials provide good insulation to keep heat next to the skin. Inuits also share sleeping spaces to take advantage of additional body heat.
It’s also important to recall that igloos are built to house a central fire pit, too. The warmth of the fire combined with animal skin bedding makes sleeping in an igloo pretty comfortable — and definitely better than facing the howling winds and plummeting temperatures of a long, Arctic night.
If you’re (un)lucky enough to be buried by a blizzard this winter, you can try your hand at building your own igloo in your back yard to get a sense of just how warm these structures can get inside. Whether you dare to sleep in it is up to you! If you’re looking for some Arctic luxury instead, there are ice hotels and igloo inns in Greenland, Finland and Sweden where you can enjoy a top-notch sleeping experience and catch the aurora borealis during the long winter nights.
Of course, if sleeping on a platform made of snow makes you feel cold just think thinking about it, you can always stick to your own bed in your climate-controlled home. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a snowfall through a window and riding out the season until the temperatures warm up again in the spring!