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Study Finds That Astronauts Are Severely Sleep Deprived 106

Posted by timothy
from the loud-snoring-small-space dept.
sciencehabit (1205606) writes "Researchers tracked the sleep patterns of 85 crew members aboard the International Space Station and space shuttle and found that despite an official flight schedule mandating 8.5 hours of sleep per night, they rarely got more than five. In fact, getting a full night's rest was so difficult that three-quarters of shuttle mission crew members used sleep medication, and sometimes entire teams were sedated on the same night. Given that sleep deprivation contributes to up to 80% of aviation accidents, it's important to better understand why sleep is so difficult in space, the authors say."
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Study Finds That Astronauts Are Severely Sleep Deprived

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  • If it isn't really dark, with all the indicator lights extinguished, how well can one expect to sleep? Even a single blue power light on a PC is enough to interfere with REM. And, if the windows aren't totally blacked, having a sunrise-sunset every 45 minutes can't help, either.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by WillgasM (1646719)
      They sleep in little padded pods. I'm pretty sure they can go pitch black.
    • by TWX (665546)
      Oh, I hate blue LEDs. When they first came out I thought they were so awesome, then I mistakenly bought an alarmclock that had a blue display. Two layers of automotive window tint later and I still couldn't stand it, had to switch back to red. The blue one now lives out in the tool shed so that its radio can be used while doing yard work.

      As to the astronauts' problems, I expect that between the hum of equipment, the extremely short orbital period the station has, the feeling of weightlessness from a s
      • by sillybilly (668960) on Friday August 08, 2014 @07:23PM (#47634649)
        I agree that sensory deprivation must be the cause of sleeplessness for the astronauts. I for one have a hard time sleeping without any covers, no matter how hot the weather is, and I may be sweating, but I can't sleep without something pressing down on my skin, and even in the heat, a simple thin bedsheet, which is much colder, is not as good from the comfortable pressure feeling perspective, as a thicker sleeping bag material, except for the heat part, so I do use the thin sheets when I have to, but if in any way bearable, even if very hot, I go for the sleeping bag material. Modern camping sleeping bags from Walmart are nice in that you can wash and dry them very fast, and they take full strength dose of bleach in the washer, and do not degrade, unlike colored traditional linen or even white linen that yellow after prolonged numerous bleachings, plus they are too heavy, and not soft, fluffy enough. Old school goose feather packed fluffy beddings are very thick (and for that they may cause sweating in the summer but work in extreme winter without stove heat in single layer as opposed to Walmart sleeping bags needing to be doubled or tripled up to build the thickness), but harder to wash, bleach and dry.

        In the weightlessness of space nothing presses against the body and skin to any degree. I could not sleep well like that. One way to solve it is to take a 55 gallon drum, or something bigger, and spin it, create microgravity like that, but the air friction becomes an issue, plus dizziness from uneven centrifugal forces as small radii, compared to a 300 meter radius spinning cylinder space station. Another way to create skin pressure is to use inflatable things, that look like sleeping bags, inflated to just the right pressure, not too tight, not too loose, just comfortable. I used to have inflatable air beds from walmart, and they were awesome comfortable down here in Earth's gravity, especially when they haven't been inflated for days or weeks, and slightly deflated, but without exception somebody comes into the house and pokes a hole into them when I'm not at home, or when I'm asleep, to where they end up totally deflated and it feels as if you are sleeping on the bare hard floor. So inflatable sleeping bags for now, maybe some kind of small radius slow spinning device that does not cause too much dizziness, and 300 meter radius rotating space stations with sleeping bags in the future, is the solution. That's my 2 cents, or more like 2.1 cents due to inflation.
        • I agree that sensory deprivation must be the cause of sleeplessness for the astronauts.

          I agree that it may be a contributory factor. I doubt very much it is a singular cause.

          ... I can't sleep without something pressing down on my skin, and even in the heat, a simple thin bedsheet, which is much colder, is not as good from the comfortable pressure feeling perspective

          This cannot be the cause. Again it might contribute but this effect is not just possible but rather easy to simulate in microgravity. Not exactly, you understand, but closely enough that it should not be a problem. Imagine a blanket held against you gently by elastic or springs. Or... by pressure on the blanket from the outside via extremely soft foam. (By "easy" I did not mean cheap.)

        • There have been experiments in this area: one design for the sleeping bag had an inflatable ring around the bag's perimeter. When inflated, it pulled the sleeping bag taut to provide some pressure on the body.

      • by ncc74656 (45571) *

        Oh, I hate blue LEDs. When they first came out I thought they were so awesome, then I mistakenly bought an alarmclock that had a blue display. Two layers of automotive window tint later and I still couldn't stand it, had to switch back to red. The blue one now lives out in the tool shed so that its radio can be used while doing yard work.

        I have an access point in the bedroom with some obnoxiously bright blue LEDs. They're bright enough that you can almost read by the light it throws off. To make things

      • by jhumkey (711391)
        I too pitched the Blue LED Alarm clock. And have the windows blacked out, but to your other point . . .

        Yes, a spinning wheel for artificially created gravity solves one problem, but leaving LEO and the protection inside the Van Allen Belts for geostationary orbit . . . I fear you'd sleep better, but you'd be sleeping in a microwave, having given up lots of your radiation shielding.

        Water shielding or "building inside an asteroid" . . . are both currently unfeasible for lift-weight or maneuverability.

        S
    • Exposure to light (and in particular some frequencies at the blue end of the spectrum) fool the body into thinking it is experiencing daylight, and this actually affects the balance of certain hormones, like melatonin which is normally secreted shortly before and during sleep.

      Studies have shown that experiencing bright light (and especially, as mentioned, of certain frequencies) straight up to bedtime, not only after bed, is known to interfere with melatonin production and other less significant hormones
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 08, 2014 @05:33PM (#47633709)

    I'd want to soak up every minute of it. Maybe they should look into the mechanism called: "It's frickin awesome."

    • by Triklyn (2455072)

      wow, someone voted this down to troll? it's pretty innocuous and pretty on topic.

    • by amicusNYCL (1538833) on Friday August 08, 2014 @06:28PM (#47634141)

      Seriously, someone contact these authors:

      Given that sleep deprivation contributes to up to 80% of aviation accidents, it's important to better understand why sleep is so difficult in space, the authors say.

      Causes range from slipping the surly bonds of earth, to floating weightless around a space station, to being able to look out a window and see the place where nearly every recorded event in human history has happened from a vantage that you would never otherwise get. Everything from showering to eating to pooping to masturbating is new again!

      I would probably have to spend at least a month on the space station before the idea of closing my eyes for an extended period sounded like a good use of my time.

      • by StikyPad (445176) on Friday August 08, 2014 @06:51PM (#47634265) Homepage

        Excitement may be a factor, but I suspect fear and stress are the more powerful factors. Most adults don't stay up in anticipation of the excitement of Christmas, but they will lose sleep over upcoming deadlines, during financial difficulty, etc. I suspect it's pretty stressful being in space, between performing mission requirements, being separated from loved ones, and being protected from death by only a few mm of aluminum, not to mention the anticipation of re-entry. Add to that the lack of privacy and alone time, the alien physiological sensation of weightlessness, and restraints and tethers to prevent floating around. I suspect that comfort is in short supply, and that it may well be difficult to truly relax in such an alien environment.

      • by sillybilly (668960) on Friday August 08, 2014 @07:43PM (#47634769)
        Yeah lack space creates lack of privacy and allows for no masturbation, or quick and easy disposal of the expelled material, so it's not done for months, or for the entire length of the mission, unless maybe for females, that can use covert techniques like pedaling an old sewing machine and holding their thighs tight in just the right way, and then it can get addictive. But for both It's easy to go for months and months without orgasms if you have to, such as a serious business space station situation - though you might get wet dreams if you're near 14-21 as a male, though not when much older, say over 35, spontaneously if you don't masturbate for like 2-3 months, and they are a big mess to wake up to, even though you feel like you never wanted to leave the dream it was so freaking awesome, like why can't I have more dreams like that, til you wake up and realize maybe that would not be a good idea. Lack of space, and congestion, above all, is the biggest stress factor in outer space, because of the very small size of the space modules. It's expensive to get a spacious auditorium that echoes, or mansion up there, at least from Earth, though it may be a lot cheaper from Moon based materials. When I was asked in first grade what I wanna become when I grow up, I said astronaut. But I changed my mind since then, and I'd be happy living like Immanuel Kant, who never left his home town or traveled anywhere, but he still lived a happy life, and entertained guests from all over the world, so it's like he took mental trips with them. That's what media today is, I can watch a jungle video, or a Moon landing video, without people saying "you had to be there to understand." And get bitten by the mosquitoes? I beg to differ. I can watch the face of a person orgasming and I don't have to be that person to know how that person feels. You don't always have to be there, it's sometimes enough to just watch, from a distance. If they tried to make me be an astronaut, I'd be constantly bitchin about lack of space, lack of roominess, and they'd keep telling me to suck it up, space is too expensive in space, there is not enough of it, and at 200 lbs I'd be already more expensive to take into orbit than a 90 lb 5' 0" ft person, who can push the buttons and follow instructions just as well or even better, coming directly from Houston.
        • by musth (901919)

          This is my favorite comment from slashdot ever.

      • by reverseengineer (580922) on Friday August 08, 2014 @08:56PM (#47635137)

        I read the Apollo 11 Lunar Surface Journal [nasa.gov] during the anniversary back on July 20th, and one of the entries that stood out to me was a section called "Trying to Rest," which detailed a time between the end of the astronauts' moonwalk, but prior to when they needed to make preparations to liftoff from the Moon. A period of about 7 hours was scheduled for the astronauts to sleep, but

        [Armstrong - "(The quality of the rest) was poor in my case."]

        [Aldrin - "I'd say the same thing."]

        In their technical debrief, Armstrong and Aldrin detailed some problems with their sleep environment- too cold, too bright, too noisy, but yeah, that they were also just too excited to sleep. (It does mention that most of the technical problems were worked out by Apollo 15, and the last few crews got decent sleep on the lunar surface. I'm still convinced that if it were me, I would have responded to planned rest periods with "HOUSTON, I CAN SLEEP WHEN I GET BACK FROM THE MOON, OVER.")

    • by thisisauniqueid (825395) on Friday August 08, 2014 @06:41PM (#47634221)
      I know Yi So-Yeon, the first Korean astronaut. She said she hated space. She wanted to throw up the whole time, and felt like her head was going to explode. (Both of these symptoms are caused by gravity not pulling things downwards, as well as the vestibular system being screwed up.)

      Personally, I have been on a Zero-G "Vomit comet" flight, and it *was* "frickin awesome" until about the 15th parabola, then I started feeling extremely nauseated. I'm lucky we landed before I needed to throw up (some poor shmuck paid $6000 for the flight and had to strap himself into a seat so he could throw up constantly into a bag after the very first parabola). However, I have never felt more motion-sick -- it was *awful* -- and it didn't subside for over five hours after we landed.
      • I would think that it's the roller coaster effect that turns your stomach.
      • I never knew motion sickness existed til I took a single yacht-trip of my life, in very rough windy weather, and constantly thew up, the sunflower seeds that were the only thing in my stomach, I haven't eaten anything a whole day before it just sunflower seeds. I went below deck and it was worth, they told me it'd be worse, you have to be on deck and fix your eyes on a steady object in the distance. But I just felt dizzy and sleepy, and fell asleep on the windy deck, without a t-shirt, and I got a lobster r
        • If anyone who wants to go sailing read this - Sit in the back of the yacht, don't go inside, do put on a hat and shirt, do use sunscreen. Always look horizontally, try not to look down and NEVER look up. After a few days, you'll be used to it, unless you don't heed the previous, get seasick and consequently never get used to it. My guess is that space is like being inside the cramped cabin of a yacht, while suspended upside down.
      • Her experience is actually not at all uncommon. Many astronauts report being uncomfortable for extended periods because of the shift in fluids messing with the body. Nausea is not uncommon because the middle ear ends up filled with fluid and there's no "down" for the vestibular system to reference. People in extended missions find they suffer from discomfort of muscles and joints. They experience vision changes and bone loss. The human body is just not adapted to zero G. Some never adapt; but, astronauts
    • I don't think I would be able to. Every moment in space feels like you're on a roller coaster drop. Your stomach constantly feels like it's in your throat. Not even the tightest strap can make your internals feel like you're back on solid ground. It would be amazing to experience space but awful to live there without some kind of artificial gravity.

    • I have never understood this sentiment.
      It is like no one even understands space. It is like everyone is blinded my the laserwork of star trek space battles. It is, by definition, the most boring place in the universe; Bar none.

      It is not subjectively boring like a poetry reading, it is objectively boring. And not only boring, but, again, the most boring place in the universe, by definition. The place where, by definition, nothing ever happens and nothing ever is, or at least relatively nothing compared to
    • by Panoptes (1041206)
      "I'd want to soak up every minute of it. Maybe they should look into the mechanism called: "It's frickin awesome" How on earth did such a vacuous comment get modded +5 insightful?
  • Apparently I sleep like an astronaut.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Apparently I sleep like an astronaut.

      Yeah, no kidding. I didn't think five hours was all that odd these days.

  • That helps me sometimes.

    Oh, and no coffee late in the evening.

  • Earth to astronauts: Go to sleep
    By Emily Underwood
    7 August 2014 6:30 pm

    It's hard to sleep in outer space. On the International Space Station (ISS), the sun rises every 90 minutes when the station circles Earth. Space suits can be uncomfortable, too: After landing on the moon in 1969, Buzz Aldrin reported getting only âoea couple of hours of mentally fitful drowsingâ due to the noise and the cold.

    Now, a new study published online today in The Lancet Neurology shows the extent of sleep deprivation among astronauts. Researchers tracked the sleep patterns of 85 crew members aboard the ISS and space shuttle and found that despite an official flight schedule mandating 8.5 hours of sleep per night, they rarely got more than five. [thelancet.com]

    In fact, getting a full night's rest was so difficult that three-quarters of shuttle mission crew members used sleep medication, and sometimes entire teams were sedated on the same night. Although, unlike astronauts from Aldrin's day, crew members now sleep in quiet, dark chambers, lack of gravity itself may contribute to the problem.

    Given that sleep deprivation contributes to up to 80% of aviation accidents, it's important to better understand why sleep is so difficult in space, the authors say.

    I used this: http://www.viewcached.com/http://news.sciencemag.org/brain-behavior/2014/08/earth-astronauts-go-sleep [viewcached.com]
    Yahoo is the only site that had it cached.

    • by AK Marc (707885)
      The problem is that they are running in a 90 minute day, but sleep scheduling at 24 hour day. They should have more frequent naps, and less frequent "sleeps". Also, from what I can tell, the sleep areas need to be better heated, and maybe sleep in a water-bed cocoon to give the feeling of pressure from all sides, like on a bed with heavy blankets.
  • I wonder how sleep apnea works in space. It's hard to sleep on your side when there's no "up".
    • Beware of flying drool.
      • How about some space porn? Would people pay to see it? They keep looking for good commercial reasons to justify conquering outer space, or to get jump started, as a private, profitable commercial enterprise, so maybe you can add that to the list of possibilities. Every dollar or incentive counts, though I personally would not pay for porn, even if it's made in the weightlessness of outer space. On a rotating space station they could have one of the floors, or some of the floors nonrotating, with slipping ce
        • by peragrin (659227)

          Not as good as you might think.

          No gravity means lower blood pressure, which means a softer penis. And then comes the deed itself. Sex requires something for the man to push against while the woman prevents being pushed. However in space there is little to grab on to and your combined motion s will throw you both into things.

          That being said I volunteer to try it out with nearly any woman who wants too.

    • by AK Marc (707885)
      Since much of sleep apnea is caused by gravity pulling parts into the airways, I'd presume it less of a problem. Also the physicals they do before going may exclude those with such a medical condition.
  • Everyove knows how fast men fall asleep after they have taken care of themselves.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This is nothing new, and is surely not news; perhaps quantifying it and writing an article for a magazine bleeding subscribers is relevant, but this has been discussed since mankind breached the outer limits of the atmosphere.

    Blindingly obvious link for anybody with a Freshman-Year level physics course: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmic_ray_visual_phenomena [wikipedia.org]

  • Sleeping patterns? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Carnildo (712617) on Friday August 08, 2014 @05:51PM (#47633895) Homepage Journal

    I don't think there's ever been a proper study of astronauts' natural sleeping patterns in space. There are always more things people want astronauts to do than there are hours to do them in, so everything (including sleep) is very tightly scheduled. Nobody's ever said "spend the next week doing nothing but keeping your spaceship running, and do it on your own schedule".

    We don't know what effect, if any, the freefall environment has on sleep patterns. It may be that astronauts are so sleep-deprived because Mission Control has been scheduling things wrong.

    • by Triklyn (2455072)

      and again, it's friggin awesome. I have trouble falling asleep too if i'm even slightly enthused about something. let alone if i have something on my mind. factor in the buttload of work, the idea that every second counts and the fact that being weightless might be the most awesome thing that a person could be... and well, I AM SUPER SURPRISED.

    • by Alomex (148003)

      Nobody's ever said "spend the next week doing nothing but keeping your spaceship running, and do it on your own schedule".

      Actually, that's pretty much what happened to Sergei Krikalev who was scheduled to return to earth in October 1991, but stayed in the Mir Space Station until March 1992 due to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

  • Their bodies are not challenged during the day
  • Do we have comparisons for their physical state before and after regarding how much sleep deprivation their bodies showed? Perhaps part of the reason that they had trouble sleeping is that it's less tiring to be awake in space or more restful to be asleep in space.
  • that stuff is just too perky
  • I had an unusual work schedule and began sleeping for no more than four hours at a time. The effects where bad.. My sister is a nurse and worked PM's and nights and we talked about the toll it took on us. When she told people that she worked nights their reply was "Oh. so you just sleep during the day". The lack of a normal day/night schedule is really bad. The flight crews train for this but you can't erase your body clock. If you haven't done it you will never know what it's like. Imagine having a sunrise
  • by Anonymous Coward

    They should look at this: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazi... [bbc.com]

    Too much crap in space research/science nowadays.
    All the NASA scientists who are proposing one way trips to Mars should go on one way trips out of NASA. That'll improve NASA. One way trips to Mars are a waste of money, time and resources. NASA should just get with the real next step and build a space station with artificial gravity. Not talk about stupid one way trips to Mars.

    Trying to go to Mars at this point of our "tech tree" is like trying to ju

  • In space no one can hear you snore.

  • That sounds a lot like the submarines I served on. It often seemed like I was the only one not popping Tylenol Cold or melatonin to sleep.

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