Sleep in space?

One of the last things that may cross your mind when you think about an astronaut traveling through space is how well they sleep on their missions.  Well, that is exactly what the First LEGO League Team of Beaverton, called the “Brobdingnagian Builders,” thought when they were given their task to complete a project that relates to the Into Orbit theme of their First LEGO season.  The main goal of the First LEGO League is to build and program a robot designed to complete specific tasks that are then tested against other First LEGO team robots in competitions. However, each team is also tasked with researching a topic based around an overarching theme. After a little research, the team learned that sleeping in space can be difficult and wanted to build their project around helping astronauts improve their sleep habits. Temperatures change wildly, the light-dark cycle shifts rapidly, the shuttle and International Space Station is noisy, it is difficult to get comfortable without gravity, and many tasks for a successful mission require astronauts to work around the clock. The Brobdingnagian Builders reached out to the Institute and were connected with me to learn about the basics of sleep, and how that basic physiology may be altered in space.

After an afternoon lecture and a little Q&A, I was amazed at how much the team already knew! They had done their homework and were prepared to ask many questions about the basics of sleep and our body’s internal biological clock (also called a circadian rhythm). As part of their project, the team had created a pamphlet on ways to improve sleep habits, which will not only be a great resource for future astronauts, but also for those of us that will never leave this orbit.

Best of luck to this future group of scientists in their competition, and keep an eye out for sleep tips in space!

Submitted by: Andrew McHill, PhD, Research Assistant Professor