Astronauts Are Sleep-Deprived in Space

Cosmonaut Nikolai Budarin's Sleep Station
Cosmonaut Nikolai Budarin (Expedition 6) inside his sleep station in the International Space Station's Zvezda service module. (Image credit: NASA)

Astronauts don't get enough sleep on orbit, a new study reveals.

Researchers discovered that 64 astronauts on board 80 space shuttle missions, and 21 astronauts on the International Space Station slept for just six hours per night on average, even though their schedules called for 8.5 hours of slumber.

"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," Bill Paloski, manager of NASA's human research program, said in a statement.

NASA is already attempting to fix the problem and will continue to monitor astronauts for any ill effects, officials added.

"Efforts are planned to understand more fully the spaceflight environment and the role that other factors may play in reducing or promoting sleep," said Lauren Leveton, NASA element scientist for behavioral health and performance in the human research program.

Such efforts include looking at workload, sensory stimulation and stresses for astronauts, Leveton added.

Scientists have long known that astronauts suffer from sleep deprivation on space missions, but the new study provides more specifics than before.

The results should not only aid astronauts, but should also help people combat fatigue here on Earth, officials said. For example, the lessons learned could help long-haul truck drivers, airline pilots and surgeons stay sharp for extended stretches on the job.

The agency is also looking at making physical changes to the space station, such as installing new light bulbs that would be easier on the astronauts' circadian rhythms — the 24-hour cycle that regulates many body processes, including sleep patterns. These bulbs would help by shining different wavelengths of light later in the day, approximating what happens as dusk approaches on Earth.

The new study is detailed in the latest edition of The Lancet Neurology journal.

Follow Elizabeth Howell @howellspace, or Space.com @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook and Google+. Originally published on Space.com.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace