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How Do Astronauts Sleep?

May 8, 2023   By Clarisa Mcdonald

We’ve all been living our whole lives here on Earth, and we’re accustomed to a certain way of life, which is extremely different to the life of an astronaut. 

Since the majority of us have never been outside of this planet nor even set foot inside a space shuttle, it’s hard for us to understand the life of an astronaut, particularly how they sleep in space.

Is it the same way as it is here on Earth? Do they float around in zero gravity? Do astronauts even sleep?

If you’re wondering about the sleeping conditions of our good friends in space, then continue reading to understand the curious case of how an astronaut sleeps.

Do Astronauts Sleep?

Just like here on Earth, astronauts need a good night’s sleep; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recommends astronauts to have 8 hours of sleep.

Sleeping is integral to restoring the body and refreshing our system, allowing us to tackle our activities and tasks for the next day.

An astronaut’s life isn’t just going up in space and floating around; most astronauts are scientists and engineers who are conducting experiments at the International Space Station.

Apart from the mental tasks conducted day-to-day, astronauts are also required to do physical exercises regularly, because the lack of gravity can lead to extreme muscle loss.

Are There Beds in Space?

The answer depends on what you would consider a bed. Astronauts sleep inside sleeping bags that are strapped onto the walls of their sleeping quarters.

Each astronaut on the International Space Station has their own personal space where they can wrap themselves inside their sleeping bag, just like a cocoon.

Astronauts need to strap themselves to the walls due to the microgravity (weightlessness in space), otherwise, they would float around in their cabins. 

What Time Do Astronauts Sleep?

Astronauts have their own sleep schedules unique to each individual. The sleep patterns in space are not the same as they are here on Earth.

The ISS orbits Earth every 90 minutes, so astronauts experience 16 sunrises and sunsets in a span of 24 hours.

The frequency of sunrises and sunsets in space is obviously very different here on Earth, meaning that an astronaut’s circadian rhythm would be out of whack.

Here on Earth, the sun and moon give us clear indicators of when to wake up and when to fall asleep (unless you’re living in the most northern and southern points of the world).

Crew members on board the International Space Station don’t have the luxury of having natural day and night cycles, so they have to create and follow their own strict sleeping schedules. The ISS uses the UTC time zone (Coordinated Universal Time) to set day and night.

Is It Easy to Sleep in Space?

The quick answer is no. As mentioned, sleeping in space is significantly different from how we sleep in our own bedrooms.

Astronauts undergo extensive training and simulations of living in space, including the sleeping situation. There is a simulated sleep station facility in NASA, and this is where they train for their sleeping conditions.

Another interesting point is that the lights are never turned off inside the space station, so astronauts require eye masks and coverings to simulate darkness.

The International Space Station is extremely loud, with engines and machinery running around the clock. This means that it can be a distraction for astronauts as they sleep, and earplugs really come in handy.

From the looks of it, it really sounds hard to sleep in space, but with the rigorous training and preparations of astronauts and cosmonauts, the task becomes more manageable.

Also, unlike us here on earth, NASA astronauts don’t get the luxury of sleeping on a nice memory foam mattress, instead, they’re cocooned inside their sleeping compartments so that they don’t float around inside their crew cabins.

Do Astronauts Experience Sleep Problems?

Due to the difficulty of sleeping in space, astronauts encounter sleeping problems such as lack of sleep or insomnia.

Sleep deprivation is very common among astronauts, which often leads them to take sleep medicine or melatonin supplements.

Sleeping in microgravity means that unless your entire body is strapped into the sleeping blanket, your limbs will float around you in your sleep.

This makes finding a “correct” sleep position a near-impossible task for astronauts since they can’t lie down as they would normally do when they’re here on Earth.

Astronauts often report waking up in the middle of the night, affecting their sleep quality during space flight.

These sleep problems can pose a problem since astronauts perform difficult tasks during their time in space, and sleepiness is the last feeling they would need.

Likewise, responsibilities on the International Space Station also often require shift work, which can cause sleep disruptions for them as well when schedules coincide with their sleep schedules.

Can Astronauts Cope with Sleep Loss?

Apart from being prescribed sleep medicine, astronauts are very well monitored from their mission control centre. Included in their team on Earth is NASA’s Behavioural Health and Performance Group which monitors the well-being of astronauts in outer space.

Astronauts undergo Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which serves as a countermeasure for the sleep problems that they experience in space.

The Interesting but Difficult Life of an Astronaut

Being an astronaut isn’t an easy job. They require a high level of education, rigorous training, and spending months away from their friends and family, and they also push their bodies to the absolute limits by being in space.

Space exploration may sound fun and interesting, but living in space can really take a toll on the human body, and that’s why only a few people ever get to go to space (plus it’s also very expensive).

Astronauts experience everything aboard the space station, sleeplessness, motion sickness, muscle atrophy, and other health problems.

Astronauts experience a lot of hardship for the sake of science, our planet, and space knowledge, but they also get to have the experience of a lifetime being one of the very few people to be privileged with space travel.

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