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Studying Circadian Rhythms and Sleep in Space

Do you remember the last time you stayed awake all night? Maybe you had a major exam, or flew across the ocean. How did you feel the following day? The time at which you would normally feel sleepy was probably different from usual. Your eyes “told” you that it was day, time for work or school. Your brain or muscles disagreed. They “told” you that it was middle of the night, and that you should sleep.

Changing when you sleep, or being in areas where daytime and nighttime are “off-schedule”, affects your circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm exists in humans as a roughly 24-hour clock that prompts us to sleep or wake.

The European Space Agency’s experiment, Circadian Rhythms, investigates the role of this “biological clock” and its changes during spaceflight. Researchers hypothesize that a non-24-hour cycle of light and dark affects crew members’ circadian rhythms. Understanding the effects of life in space on astronauts’ circadian rhythms may help improve performance and health for future crew members.

Researchers collect data on astronaut’s circadian rhythms by using a “double-sensor,” which measures the temperature at the core of the body. The crew attaches one sensor to their head, and the other to their chest.

Based on results from this research, future crew members could more accurately adjust their sleep, work and physical activity scheduled to accommodate natural circadian cycles, which could improve productivity and health.

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Studying Circadian Rhythms and Sleep in Space

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