Mission to Mars Faces Sleep Disorder
Astronauts have a down – to – Earth problem that could be even worse on a long trip to Mars: They can’t get enough sleep. And over time, the lack of slumber can turn intrepid space travelers into drowsy couch potatoes, a new study shows.
In a novel experiment, six volunteers were confined in a cramped mock spaceship in Moscow to simulate a 17 – month voyage. It made most of the would – be spacemen lethargic, much like birds and bears heading into winter, gearing up for hibernation.
The men went into a prolonged funk. Four had considerable trouble sleeping, with one having minor problems and the sixth mostly unaffected . Some had depression issues . Sometimes, a few of the men squirreled themselves away into the most private nooks they could find. They didn’t move much. They avoided crucial exercise.
“This looks like something you see in birds in the winter,” said lead author David Dinges, a sleep expert at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
Dinges said scientists can’t tell if the men’s lethargy was just lack of sleep or was also caused by other factors: the close quarters, lack of privacy with so many cameras or being away from their families for so long.
It’s a problem that has to be fixed — and can be — before astronauts are sent to Mars, as US President Barack Obama proposes for the mid-2030 s, Dinges said.
Devices on the volunteers’ wrists measured their movements and showed that when they were asleep and awake they were moving much less than they should have been, an unexpected and disturbing finding, Dinges said. One of the volunteers lept nearly half an hour less each night than when he started the mission, affecting how he went about his day, Dinges said.
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