How Astronauts Sleep in Space

Astronauts sleep while in space, but can you imagine a restless sleeper in a zero gravity environment? Zero gravity means the astronauts aren’t concerned with finding a comfortable position. There isn’t any up or down beyond earth’s gravity well, so astronauts can sleep in any attitude, but they have to stay put. Tossing and turning would send an unrestrained astronaut careening all over the cabin.

According to nasa, the astronauts, either on the shuttle or in the space station, generally use sleeping bags when they need to sleep. The space shuttles have four bunks and the space station has two very small, single person crew cabins. When crews exceed bunk or cabin capacity, they can sleep strapped in to one of the seats in the shuttle or attached to the wall.

Another very real issue comes about due to the cramped living conditions in space. The astronauts are packed into a small area where they can hear each other. Do you snore while asleep? Some of the astronauts do. They documented the snoring on one of the missions when a medical doctor (who snored) was wired to record his sleep patterns, etc. You can snore in space.

Just like anyone else, astronauts might have to get up during the night to answer the call of nature. And the excitement of a space mission coupled with the inevitable motion sickness can play havoc with an astronaut’s sleep patterns.

We are accustomed to the circadian rhythms here on earth with the 24 hour day and night cycle, but if a crew member is sleeping in either the commander’s chair or the pilots’ chair, the sun will “rise” every 90 minutes. They can use a sleep blindfold, but may still be disturbed by the light and warmth coming through the cockpit window.

The astronauts are scheduled for an 8 hour sleep period when each mission “day” comes to an end. Again, since the sun rises every 90 minutes, the waking and sleeping cycle is an artificial substitute for the day night cycle on earth, set by ground control at nasa.

Every “morning,” the shuttle crews are awakened by music broadcast from the ground. The space station crews don’t have the nasa DJs to wake them, so they resort to alarm clocks.

Sleeping while in space isn’t as easy as turning out the lights and flopping into your bed. I know whenever I travel, I’m always happy to be back in my own, comfortable bed. I always sleep better there. I wonder what it must feel like for an astronaut when they get home and can flop into their own bed again?