Weeks before and during flight to space, astronauts were found to suffer significant sleep deficiency, revealed a 10-year study published by The Lancet Neurology journal. What’s worse, a prevalent use of sleeping pills among them was also discovered.
Researchers from the Harvard Medical School, University of Colorado, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders conducted the comprehensive study.
Laura K. Barger, PhD, lead author of study and associate physiologist at said BWH division, said in a statement that sleep deficiency among members of the crew is widespread.
NASA has scheduled an 8.5 sleeping hours every night for members in space flight crew, yet results of the study shows otherwise. The average sleep duration of astronauts was below six hours or about 5.96 hours in shuttle missions and a little over six hours or 6.09 hours in ISS missions.
The results further indicated that the sleep deficiency among astronauts started long prior to flight launch, averaging less than 6.5 sleeping hours every night during training interval transpiring roughly three months before space flight.
It also emphasizes the prevalent practice of popping sleeping medicines, such as zaleplon and zolpidem while in space flights. Three-quarters of the crewmembers in ISS missions admitted taking sleeping pills at certain points during their stay in space, while over three-quarters or 78 percent among crewmembers in shuttle mission confessed taking such medications on over half of nights or 52 percent in space.
Barger said that “sleep deficiency has been associated with performance decrements in numerous laboratory and field-based studies.” The use of sleeping medications may jeopardize the ability of a crewmember to perform well if roused from sleep by emergency alarm. Which is why she added that there’s a need for efficient measures in promoting adequate sleep among crewmembers in both space flight and training.
“These measures may include scheduling modifications, strategically timed exposure to specific wavelengths of light, and behavioral strategies to ensure adequate sleep, which is essential for maintaining health, performance and safety,” said study’s senior author Charles Czeisler, PhD, MD, FRCP.
Barger also reminded that the U.S. Federal Drug Administration issued warning to patients on sleeping medication use against getting involved in dangerous occupations that require utmost motor coordination or mental alertness
The study, titled “Prevalence of sleep deficiency and use of hypnotic drugs in astronauts before, during, and after spaceflight: an observational study,” is said to be the biggest one conducted on sleeping habits during space flight. Besides NASA, the National Space Biomedical Research Institute also supported said study.