Skip to Content

Astronauts Measure Sleep in Orbit

A new study will track astronauts sleep patterns while in space.

Getting a good night’s rest can be difficult in your own bed, but imagine being over 200 miles from home, sleeping strapped down in a spacecraft orbiting earth, and at any moments notice you could be asked to perform a critical mission operation. Astronauts onboard the International Space Station spend anywhere from 14 days to 6 months in such conditions. Now NASA is conducting a study to monitor the sleep-wake patterns of crew members while onboard the space station in hopes of improving the quality and duration of sleep in space—a gravity free environment .

Astronaut Suni Williams shown wearing an Actiwatch as part of the Sleep-Long study. Credit: NASA

Astronauts will wear a wristwatch called an Actiwatch that monitors their sleep/wake activity using accelerometers, sensors that record movement. The device will also measure the ambient light conditions. In addition, astronauts will have to keep a daily sleep log. At least 20 crew members are expected to participate in the study. Prior to launching in space, each crew member will submit baseline data from her sleep patterns on Earth.

Sleep deprivation has a real effect on human health, a person’s ability to focus and perform task, and his or her mental state. Medical research has also shown that chronic sleep loss can lead to hypertension, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and multiple psychiatric disorders. The manager of the Behavioral Health and Performance Element Human Research Program Space Medicine Division at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Lauren Leveton, points out the importance of the impact of sleep loss to the crew in the agency’s press release. “When you consider the risky business of spaceflight,” said Leveton, “We want to reduce the risk of performance decrements and optimize people’s performance capabilities.”

NASA says that data and feedback from a few astronauts already using the device has lead to changes in schedule and countermeasures like naps or caffeine intake. The agency hopes that the information they gather can be used for planning future exploration missions that could last twice as long and in more constrained environments. The data will also be valuable on Earth to improve the sleep of police officers, shift workers, and military personnel, for example.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Europe's AI Act concept
Europe's AI Act concept

A quick guide to the most important AI law you’ve never heard of

The European Union is planning new legislation aimed at curbing the worst harms associated with artificial intelligence.

Uber Autonomous Vehicles parked in a lot
Uber Autonomous Vehicles parked in a lot

It will soon be easy for self-driving cars to hide in plain sight. We shouldn’t let them.

If they ever hit our roads for real, other drivers need to know exactly what they are.

supermassive black hole at center of Milky Way
supermassive black hole at center of Milky Way

This is the first image of the black hole at the center of our galaxy

The stunning image was made possible by linking eight existing radio observatories across the globe.

transplant surgery
transplant surgery

The gene-edited pig heart given to a dying patient was infected with a pig virus

The first transplant of a genetically-modified pig heart into a human may have ended prematurely because of a well-known—and avoidable—risk.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.