Sleepless over Seattle

Yea…sleeping in space doesn’t look quite like that now…and may not for a while. But what does it look like? And how good to people sleep in space? Turns out…it looks goofy…and people don’t sleep well up there. Lets check out what is happening with Kendra, and learn more.

The Fun Part

August 9, 2024
En-route to the Gateway, 213,000 miles from Earth

Kendra how do you sleep so well? I mean it seems like you can fall asleep anywhere in here.

What do you mean Dan?

I mean I feel like you are the only one of us four who has actually slept more than about an hour since we left the ground. I know I have been getting just little cat naps because I just can’t deal with all this…this…wrongness. Like where do I put my hands? Or where do I sleep when everywhere is the same as where I eat work and the rest? How do you do it?

I don’t know what to tell you Dan…I just sleep….I go to my little cubby and sleep. I feel like I’ve slept in worse places.

Worse places! How can you say that? We have basically no gravity, have about as much room as a prisoner, don’t have night, and well…don’t have a bed…so…how could you sleep in worse places?

Oh, well not this different, that’s for sure…but I went to the Army’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape school, and we had to sleep in confined spaces, with loud noises, at all hours, after being hit, and while hungry. So in my head so long as I’ve got a full belly and am not getting my face punched right before I go to bed, then I’ve slept in worse places.

Ok fair – but that was what…like a week tops…we have been up here for nearing a week now, and will be for another couple…so…how can you be so calm about this?

Ehhh…I don’t know…I don’t think of it as being calm…I just have my sleep mantra that I have used since I was a kid, and regardless of where I am, it helps put me to sleep. And bringing this sleep mask didn’t hurt either.

Sleep mantra?

Yea – you know…like a meditation chant, or some other word or phrase that focuses your mind? You haven’t ever tried yoga or meditation have you?

Oh…no I haven’t.

Well it is just you repeating a word or phrase that you associate with a mental action you want to take. For me it is just repeating ‘sleep’. It is like my mental ‘sleep’ word. I repeat that in my head for about five minutes and I’m out

Hmm, seems a little wonky – but at this point I’ll try just about anything other than the drugs they sent up for us to use to sleep. That shit makes me feel awful.

Well – not to tell you what to do or anything…although as the commander I guess I could….just kidding…gawd you should have seen your face…my point is that we need you to be ready when we get to the Gateway, so whether it is my sweet ass mantra or the drugs…you need to get this sorted out soon.

The Real Deal

You might assume it’s entirely pleasant to sleep in space. You just float. But astronaut Mark Kelly points out that this actually makes snoozing more difficult. Interviewed after his 340 day stay on the international Space Station, Kelly said “Sleeping is harder here in space than on a bed…because the sleep position here is the same position throughout the day. You don’t ever get that sense of gratifying relaxation here that you do on Earth after a long day at work. Yes, there are humming noises on station that affect my sleep, so I wear ear plugs to [bed].”

Tired of the Problem

Turns out Kelly was far from the first astronaut to complain about how hard it was to sleep in space. A 2014 study found that 85 astronauts, across almost 4,300 nights, were chronically sleep deprived; with many resorting to sleeping pills to get and stay to sleep.

Not sure I would sleep so well like this either

Not exactly an encouraging statistic for those of us who would like to travel to Mars or beyond. All the more so because these astronauts are doing all of the things that would help us sleep better here on Earth. They are exercising (2 hours a day), doing meaningful, fulfilling work and generally abstaining from alcohol. So what is it that causes them to have such a hard time?

Researchers believe a large part of the problem is the unfamiliar environment causes a disruption of our circadian rhythm. That on top of isolation, a sunrise every 90 minutes and a ‘robust’ ventilation system making the ISS quite noisy. So it is basically a perfect storm of problems facing these sleep deprived travelers.

Research around sleeping in space has been ongoing for decades, and some of the more recent studies have found that even just the isolation is enough to cause sleep disturbances in some; while other studies have shown that astronauts have about a 24.2 hour internal ‘day’. While this doesn’t seem like a huge deal – it basically means they are an hour off wherever they started every four days.

Right now astronauts undergo sleep therapy, and have rigid schedules to try and mitigate these problems. But this isn’t a sustainable solution as we increase our population in space.

So What Will We Do

The most effective solution is also the one that will take the longest, and that is we make artificial gravity. That will enable the variation in work, play and rest postures; and by that time we should have a greater ability to to vary the environment (light, noise…etc) between compartments.

Until then the solution will have to be a rigid schedule combined with separating sleep and work compartments. Already astronauts have all of the symptoms of some of the worst shift work sleep disorder seen on Earth, so applying solutions found here will likely help up in orbit.

This includes creating a day/night cycle through lighting. Being extremely vigilant about the consumption of stimulants, judiciously using herbal supplements like melatonin. And ultimately integrating relaxation exercises like Tai Chi or yoga to calm the body close to bedtime.

But What About The Fun y Part of Bed?

Would space sex be any good? Recent research suggests it would not. For one thing, zero gravity can induce nausea—a less-than-promising sign for would-be lovers. Astronauts also perspire a lot in flight, meaning sex without gravity would likely be hot, wet, and surrounded by small droplets of sweat.

Lets think about how totally not attractive that would be…you are floating…nauseous…surrounded by a literal cloud of yours and your partners sweat…not quite a cool as you thought…

As if that wasn’t bad enough, people normally experience lower blood pressure in space, which means reduced blood flow, which means … well, you know what that means…and if not…well Wikipedia is there for a reason.

Next Time

You know what…I don’t know what there is going to be next time…and while that might seem unorganized to you…it also does to me too. So we agree. Maybe next time I’ll talk about mitigating the pressure of acceleration, or drinking in space (alcohol and the ‘good’ stuff too), or maybe cooking in space. I’ll figure it out…and you will like it…or not…either way it will be fun.

Until then, feel free to reach out to me with ideas, suggestions, or requests for me to talk to your organization below.

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