Sleeping in space
Sleeping in microgravity can be challenging! In the weightless environment of the International Space Station (ISS), astronauts cannot "lie down" to sleep: there is no real "up" or "down."
Sleeping quarters in space
Astronauts go to bed in their "sleep stations," personal sleep compartments the size of a telephone booth, which have:
- a sleeping bag
- a pillow
- a lamp
- an air vent
- a personal laptop
- a place for personal belongings
Crew members who want to sleep outside the sleep compartments can secure their sleeping bag to the floor, the ceiling or the wall. They generally use earplugs and a sleep mask to block out the noise and light.
In the weightless environment of space, the carbon dioxide (CO2) that astronauts expel could form a bubble around their head. That is why they have to sleep near an air vent.
In space, sleeping on the floor is just as comfortable as sleeping on the wall: there is no difference in the weightless environment.
However, since astronauts are used to sleeping on a mattress on Earth, their sleeping bag has a rigid cushion, to exert pressure on their back.
Even though astronauts are allotted about 8.5 hours for sleep every day, many of them have reported needing only about 6 hours to feel fully rested. Some specialists believe that this is because the body tires less quickly in weightlessness: the muscles don't have to work as hard as on Earth.
However, the noise level on the ISS creates poor conditions for getting a good night's rest. That is why astronauts usually wear earplugs while they sleep.
Snoozing… day and night
While orbiting the Earth, astronauts witness 16 sunrises and sunsets every 24 hours.
While seeing a sunrise every 90 minutes may seem like an incredible experience, it can also make it difficult for astronauts to maintain a regular sleep pattern
Luckily, astronauts use Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) to keep a regular schedule. This time zone represents a compromise between the mission control centres in Houston and Moscow.
After long-duration stays in space, some astronauts have reported the sensation of floating over their mattress for a few days after their return to Earth.
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