How to Achieve a Restful Night’s Sleep in Space

In the vast expanse of space, astronauts face numerous challenges to their daily routines and biological rhythms. With the Huginn mission, ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen aims to shed light on the effects of sleeping in space through two innovative experiments: Circadian Light and Sleep in Orbit.

Circadian rhythm, our internal clock that influences our sleep-wake cycle, is an important aspect of maintaining a healthy lifestyle on Earth. However, in the unique environment of the International Space Station (ISS), astronauts experience 16 sunsets and sunrises every day as they orbit the Earth every 90 minutes. This unearthly routine can disrupt their natural daily rhythm, making it challenging to find a consistent schedule.

To address this issue, the Circadian Light experiment, developed by SAGA Space Architects from Copenhagen, Denmark, aims to support astronauts’ circadian rhythm in space. A specially designed lamp, installed by Andreas Mogensen himself on the third day of his stay in space, is synchronized to his sleep schedule. The lamp changes lighting throughout the day to mimic natural light patterns that astronauts do not experience in space. In the evening, the light glows in a calming red to simulate a sunset, and in the morning, it turns blue to evoke the colors of a morning sky.

The importance of maintaining a regular schedule and orienting oneself in time was discovered during a two-month expedition to Greenland, where the founders of SAGA tested the Circadian Light. Similarly, ESA sponsors research in Antarctica, where people at Concordia research station experience long dark winters and continuous summer days that significantly impact their sleep. The insights gained from these extreme environments can help astronauts on the ISS adapt to their unique sleep challenges.

Another aspect of sleeping in space that Andreas Mogensen will investigate is the quality of sleep using a small in-ear measuring device developed by researchers from Aarhus University, Denmark. Instead of lying down, astronauts float in a sleeping bag strapped to the wall of their sleeping quarters. The in-ear device, similar to headphones, measures the electroencephalogram (EEG) of Andreas’s brain, providing valuable data for researchers to analyze his brain activity throughout the night.

Traditionally, EEG measurements require a helmet-style device with many wires, which can be uncomfortable for the wearer. The in-ear devices used in this experiment are less invasive and easier to put in before going to bed. By collaborating and sharing data between the Circadian Light and Sleep in Orbit experiments, researchers aim to gain additional insights into the effects of sleep in space.

The findings from these experiments will not only contribute to the well-being and performance of astronauts on long-duration space missions but also provide valuable knowledge for understanding and managing sleep-related challenges on Earth. As humanity ventures further into space exploration, it’s essential to ensure the physical and mental health of astronauts, both in their waking and sleeping hours. The Huginn mission, led by ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen, represents a significant step towards unraveling the mysteries of sleep in outer space and improving the lives of those who journey beyond our planet.