How to ensure the astronauts better sleep?
In one of the laboratories of German volunteers pay for what they help to explore one of the most serious problems of space travel: how to ensure the astronauts better sleep at night? Underground Research Laboratory is surrounded by forest near Cologne, Germany. White walls, soft lighting, no windows and only a few pictures. The room has a bed, a computer and hanging disturbing picture with unearthly landscape, with giant floral plant and strange futuristic space underground. On the ceiling fixed cameras that monitor every step.
Once in a laboratory isolated from the world, you can completely lose the order of the day and night. Everything becomes detached from reality, as if there is not on earth. Actually, this laboratory and achieved the creators belonging to the German Space Agency. Envihab - an ideal environment for scientists and physicians, where they can test the impact of space flight on the human body.
In one recent experiment studied the effect of lack of sleep - the real problem for astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS). "In principle, they could sleep enough for about eight hours a day," says Eva-Maria Elmenhorst conducting research. "But most of the astronauts slept five or six hours, and that's not enough."
Many of us want to sleep all day, and only strong coffee allows us to stay on his feet. It is one thing - to get up at 4:15 am to fly to Germany to talk to Elmenhorst, and more - to be an astronaut flying around the planet at a speed of 27,000 km / h in a few inches from the cold vacuum of space. Any wrong decision, mistake or loss of concentration can mean the difference between life and death of an astronaut and the other crew members. What is it - just dock the space ship weighing several tons, having slept only five o'clock? However, sleep well is not so easy in space. No beds, no pillows - a sleeping astronaut attached to the wall in a sleeping bag. And that's not all. "There are probably several reasons for which they do not sleep as it should be," says Elmenhorst. "Isolation, sunrise every 90 minutes, and the noise of the ventilation system - all this stirs. Astronauts often have to work in shifts, watching the experiments or capturing ships supply. "
To investigate how this lack of sleep affects the operation of astronauts, Elmenhorst team exposed groups of paid volunteers experiments with sleep deprivation. "We want to show how lack of sleep affects cognitive function, and why some people cope with this better than others."
Like the astronauts, it is hoped that the study will benefit shift workers on Earth, and the other - doctors and nurses - are working long hours, making decisions about life and death, struggling with a lack of sleep. In Germany alone, according to Elmenhorst, about 16% of employees regularly work in shifts, and many workers, often working in responsible places, sleeping less than the recommended eight hours a night.
The volunteers in experiments Elmenhorst gave a number of daily tasks, including exercises with memory tests for reaction time and repetitive computer games. For five nights, they were allowed to sleep only five hours. This was followed by a recovery period with eight hours of sleep, and then crazy marathon in thirty-eight hours without sleep. Doctors monitored brain activity of its constituents, using a plurality of electrodes, blood samples were taken and held MRI scan.
"We are interested in the fundamental mechanisms of the brain that control sleep," says Elmenhorst. "Even one night without sleep leads to hormonal changes in the body."
Volunteers who were motivated primarily money, sit, staring at the TV and rewriting chatting for two weeks, it was more difficult than they imagined. "Stay awake was difficult," says Lucas, a student who participated in the study. "Someone is always kept us awake."
"The only thing we can do is to talk to each other, watch TV or play with a laptop," says another volunteer Magdalena, which is preparing to become a teacher. "There was always someone who spoke: Magdalena, are you asleep? Wake up, Magdalena! ".
To ensure that volunteers are not asleep, they are constantly monitored by members of the research group - who were sitting with them or watching them on the lab monitors. If a volunteer's eyes were closed for too long, the researchers woke him.
Days passed, and Lucas realized that his memory and dexterity deteriorate. "I have noticed that we have become worse to take tests," he says. "Now I try to sleep as much as possible - no more nightly get-togethers."
In addition to identifying the expected decline in mental performance, the research team has found even more disturbing biological changes in volunteers. "We have shown that five hours of sleep a night for five days slow down glucose metabolism and the body's hormonal changes occur," says Elmenhorst. This correlates with research suggesting that people who regularly work in shifts, suffer disproportionately from diabetes and high blood pressure. The ultimate goal of this research is to develop the best daily schedules for astronauts, so they are not too tired. As soon as the long-term mission of becoming more common, and humanity is moving to space civilization, to ensure a sufficient amount of sleep for astronauts it becomes very important.