Simulated Mars mission shows good sleep is critical for a successfull mission

“Not really groundbreaking” is what I thought, when I read this. We all know that we perform worse in our work, in our lives, if we don’t get enough sleep on a regular bases.

Apparrenlty one of the outcomes of Mars500, where 6 volunteers were confined to a 55o cubic meter facility in Russia from June 3, 2010 till november 2011 for a total of 520 days is this report on disrupted sleep patterns.  
The six volunteers — three Russians, two Europeans and one Chinese — were confined to study the psychological and medical impacts of a long-term deep space flight.
The mission was broken into three phases: 250 days for the trip to Mars, 30 days on the surface, and 240 days for the return to Earth.  
More than 90 experiments were conducted, including monitoring the crew’s sleep, their performance and psychological responses to the confinement to determine the impact of sleep loss, fatigue, stress, mood changes and personal conflicts. The crew’s body movements were monitored using a device on their wrist, which found that they became more sedentary as the mission progressed and they also answered weekly questionnaires. The majority of the crew members also experienced disturbances of sleep quality, alertness deficits, or altered sleep-wake intervals and timing.

According to David Dinges This was the first investigation to pinpoint the crucial role that sleep-wake cycles will play in extended space missions. David Dinges of the University of Pennsylvania was one of the co-authors of the sleep study, which was published in the January 7-11 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The bottom line of the study is that healthy sleep duration and timing  is of life-sustaining importance for everyone.  As the human body’s need for sleep is as essential as our need for food and water and integral to our ability to thrive. Researchers concluded that spacecraft and surface habitats will need to artificially mimic aspects of Earth’s sleep-wake activity cycles, such as appropriately timed light exposure, food intake and exercise.

The findings also have implications for the increasing prevalence of sleep disorders in the general population as many people in industrial societies have sedentary lifestyles with prolonged exposure to artificial light. These people see their sleep patterns disrupted by school and work demands. Disrupted sleep has been linked to a number of health conditions, including obesity.


Truth be told I am amazed to learn that the Mars500 simulation apparently did not include ‘daylight therapy’ lamps (of 10,000 lux at 20 inch) for all the participants. Living in a country where the sun shines not as bright (or at all) in winter as in summer, I have experienced all my life a diminishing of alertness and even general capabilities during the wintermonths, roughly from November till end of March. Even as a child you could tell what time of year it was by looking at my report cards: during the wintermonths they would show significantly lower grades compared to those in September-October or in April-July. Needless to say that I own several daylight therapy lamps and according to colleagues you can tell, even when talking to me on the phone, as my speech patterns will be slower and less focused if  I have not used a daylight therapy lamp (10,000 lux) in the morning for a sufficient period of time to wake up my total bodily systems to the demands of that day.

Note to NASA, ESA, Roscosmos, JAXA, India and China:
When sending astronauts into Space, pack daylight lamps for each of them !
They cost less than $75 a piece, so price is no showstopper here.

Learn more about the Mars500 sleepstudy here


The lamp I have been using since December 2003. Then expensive, nowadays for a song, plus it uses a minimal amount of electricity.
My daughters use them too.

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