Insomnia for Astronauts
astronauts a good night's sleep, the best option is to cover them
with electrodes. That's the conclusion from a 1999 investigation of
members on space shuttle missions typically get only five or six hours
of restless sleep each night. Some astronauts have resorted to sleeping
pills, but these can affect alertness and reaction time. So for the
past six years, NASA has given its astronauts melatonin, a hormone
released by the body during darkness that makes us feel sleepy.
Czeisler of Harvard Medical School in Boston knew that melatonin pills
only seem to improve sleep for people whose bodies are not producing
normal levels of melatonin. So he decided to test whether the pills
were really helping shuttle astronauts.
two shuttle flights last year, five astronauts took either melatonin
or a placebo before sleep. On some days they wore a simple wristwatch
monitor, while on others they wore numerous electrodes and monitors
to record their sleep patterns.
had no effect on either the quality of sleep or on the astronauts'
performance in psychomotor tests next day. Surprisingly, the astronauts
seemed to sleep best when they were covered with electrodes, even
though some had joked that no one could sleep while wearing so many
revealed his findings at a meeting at the National Academy of Sciences
in Washington DC last week. He believes astronauts can't sleep because
they are preoccupied by their duties. He suggests that covering them
in monitoring equipment convinces them that sleep is an integral part
of their mission, and that this allows them to relax enough to rest
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