Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, and the University of Colorado, turned their gazes upward in new research to investigate the extent of the sleep deprivation suffered by astronauts.
The study and others like it are the result of an increasing effort undertaken by agencies around the world to study the physiological and psychological impacts of a permanent human presence in space.
“Most ordinary people will experience some sleep-related deficiency at some point in their lives. Such conditions can be brought on by physical discomfort, stress, or environmental factors such as lighting. As you can imagine, the environment experienced by astronauts during a long-term stay in Earth-orbit fosters these conditions perfectly, causing many astronauts to suffer more than their Earth-bound counterparts.
On average, astronauts involved in the study were scheduled to take 8.5 hours of sleep each day. However, the study discovered that most astronauts only managed to rest 6 hours per day. One of the unwanted side effects of this was that 78 percent of shuttle mission members used sleep-promoting drugs for roughly half of the days they were in orbit, with 75 percent of ISS crew members also reporting use of the drugs.
“The study provided us valuable data and insights into incidence and severity of sleep deficiencies in space and has driven the development of countermeasure approaches that are already being tested aboard the space station,” states Bill Paloski, manager of NASA’s Human Research Program. “We have similar studies in progress and plan to address multiple other risk areas aboard the space station, and we expect to fully utilize that valuable platform in this endeavor for as long as it remains aloft.”
Those wishing to view the results of the study may do so online, where it has been published in the Lancet Neurology journal.
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