We’ve just about all seen them. The Star Trek episodes where the space travelers retire to their luxurious suites and not only retire but also “entertain” on their soft, comfy beds. This has made more than one fellow wish for the stars. The truth is however, the previous scenario couldn’t be farther from, well, the truth. While today’s astronauts may be as gorgeous and glamorous as those on television, they do not enjoy the “suite” life at bedtime.
First, there is the matter of gravity or lack there of. This makes for interesting sleeping arraignments, to say the least. Astronauts can choose to sleep just about anywhere on board the space shuttle as long as they are tethered to something be it a wall, chair or one of the four bunks provided. The bunks are tiny and cramped however, in space, size really doesn’t matter. Neither does position. It is possible and probable at least a few of the seven astronauts on the shuttle will be sleeping in a standing position without really being too bothered by it. Again, thanks to the lack of gravity.
Each astronaut may not have his or her own beautiful comforter spread across a king-size as in the movies but they do have a special-issue sleeping bag. These bags are equipped with waist straps to keep the astronauts from floating out of their bags. They sleep with arms out while floating tethered to whatever they choose, which can be unsettling when it comes to getting a good nights sleep.
The space program schedules eight hours of sleep each twenty-four hour period for each astronaut. This, in theory, sounds perfect but can be difficult to put into practice. Along with the usual sleep activity of earth such as dreams, nightmares and snoring, astronauts have some added disruptions to sleep. There is the excitement of the mission mixed with motion sickness which can disturb sleep. Add this to a sun that rises every ninety minutes in space and you’ve got some pretty serious jamming to your Circadian Rhythm. This would account for the reason fifty percent of all medications taken by astronauts in flight is for sleep.
There is no doubt, being chosen for a space mission is one huge honor and thrill. The challenges of finding the necessary comfort for a good nights rest seem to be valid concerns when launching into orbit. I think for now, I will stick with my Sealy Posturepedic.