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Sleeping in Space

By Ray Oyung

February 17, 1998

There are lots of studies about sleep, sleep disorders, and sleep deprivation...on Earth. What happens when people sleep in space? We're doing some preliminary research on this matter in a couple of ways. My program director, Dr. David Neri, is working with over 40 other scientists across the country on a project to learn more about sleeping in space for a shuttle mission that's scheduled to launch this coming April. The shuttle mission is designated STS-90, Neurolab. STS stands for Space Transportation System and each space shuttle ever launched has one unique number given to it. If you'd like to learn more about STS-90, you can follow these URLs... http://neurolab.jsc.nasa.gov/neurhome.htm and http://shuttle.nasa.gov/index.html.

Last July, 2 volunteers on board STS-85 kept track of their sleep/wake schedule on electronic diaries that our program developed called AIRLOGs (Ames Interactive Reporting Logs). The astronauts recorded the time they went to bed, the time they woke up, how they felt when they woke up. They listed any medications they were taking, when they ate, exercised, and went to the bathroom.

The astronauts also kept logs of their sleep/wake schedule several days before launch. This allowed us to compare their subjective quality and quantity of sleep on Earth with the sleep they reported while in orbit. We received some good preliminary data after that mission and hope to continue recording this type of data with other shuttle missions.

The best part about this study is that I recently found out that one of our volunteers from STS-85 is a member of the same flying club at the Palo Alto Airport. He was listed in the club's monthly newsletter to give a presentation that I attended last Friday.

He spoke extensively about the mission and showed both video and slides depicting: initial training; mission research objectives; stages of flight from launch to landing; and personal experiences. While in orbit, the shuttle would travel between night time and daytime every 90 minutes. Therefore, the astronauts had to pull shades down over the windows before bedtime. The sleeping space was fairly cramped with six astronauts on board that mission. They slept in sleeping bags hooked to the bulkhead so as not to float around and bump into anyone or anything on the mid-deck. One interesting observation made was the fact that if the arms were not tucked into the bag, they would "float" out in front of you. Could you imagine waking up after a good night's sleep, opening your eyes, seeing hands in front of you, and realizing that they're your hands!


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