A study revealed that most of the astronauts are constant users of sleeping pills to get a sound sleep. The Study, which was conducted in 2010 when the last U.S. space Shuttle was launched in to orbit, examined the sleep cycles of astronauts.
Astronauts in shuttle sleep less
It concluded that astronauts in the shuttle slept for less than six-hours on a usual night compared to those in the International Space Station, who slept for few more minutes. Mostly Zolpiderm drug was used by 75% of the crew members to get a good sleep.
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Total of 64 astronauts were subjected to the test inside a shuttle, and 21 astronauts were inside the ISS. Every subject was required to keep medication and sleep chart and wore movement monitors to confirm the sleep times. Scientist could not gather the information about the astronauts’ performance, but are confident that the astronauts lacked sleep.
According to the researchers, the conclusion drawn out in the study, financed but not conducted by NASA, raises some safety issues for missions in the future. Lead author Laura Barger, a research fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and instructor at Harvard Medical School in Boston said, “In ground-based studies, we know that sleeping less than six hours is associated with performance detriments.”
She said that a regular use of sleeping pills is itself an issue of concern. According to Barger, if astronauts have to get up to handle some sort of emergency during the night then sleeping pills can take a toll on performance.
Use of Zolpiderm questionable
The team led by Bargers said that sleeping pills could cause drowsiness till next day. They also cited the warning, which is issued on Zolpiderm by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) saying that users should be conveyed the risk during the dangerous jobs that require mental alertness or motor skills such as driving or operating heavy machinery.
FDA has even linked the drug with “Sleep Driving,” which is an action performed similar to the sleepwalking, but is riskier because the individual starts driving the car, and when he or she wakes up there is no memory of the actions.
Barger said that upon returning to the earth these astronauts slept like several other workers, who do not get a good sleep. As per NASA’s guidelines, astronauts should sleep for 8.5 hours of sleep per night. But some adverse conditions like heat, cold, noise and weightlessness might be a hurdle in a good night rest.