How to Relax and Sleep in Space, the Astronaut Way3 min read

Space is a wondrous place, and the folks who venture there are just as wondrous. After all, floating around in the black abyss for months at a time must really be trying. What’s curious is how those space travelers cope without gravity. How do they sleep? How do they entertain themselves? How can you truly relax when you’re floating around constantly?

Believe it or not, astronauts get on quite well in space. They do a lot of the same things we do back home. They play video games and watch movies. They play board games with fellow teammates, and they even exercise. In fact, they have special exercises that help them get accustomed to microgravity.

That’s all fine and dandy, but one question still remains, how do they sleep?

How do Astronauts Sleep in Space?

Chris Hadfield asleep on the ISS

Chris Hadfield asleep on the ISS

Like airplanes, spacecraft have pressurized cabins, so the atmosphere inside is very similar to the one back on Earth or in an airplane. Even spacecraft like the International Space Station have a simulated atmospheric experience for those on board. Of course, microgravity still causes those residing within to experience weightlessness or zero gravity. Because of that, astronauts can’t really lay down flat or remain stationary.

Technically, it means that astronauts could sleep anywhere they want within the spacecraft. Then again, that would increase the potential to sustain an injury, as it would be likely they’d float around aimlessly and knock into various walls or equipment.

Naturally, to combat such an issue, some astronauts strap themselves into special seats while others climb into sleeping bags that are attached to the walls of the craft. They secure their bodies including their arms and legs to keep from floating around the cabin suspended in the air.

Thanks to microgravity, there really is no such thing as “up” in a spacecraft. This makes it easier for astronauts to sleep vertically, because when you’re tethered in it provides the sensation that you’re lying down.

The real issue for them is not finding a place to sleep, but instead actually getting enough sleep.

How Do Astronauts Keep Their Bodies Well Rested?

Sleep deprivation is not good for your body, at all. It can actually cause a lot of problems like irritability, mood swings, increased attention deficit, hypertension, obesity and even cardiovascular disease.

Right, so it’s pretty clear that astronauts, and everyone for that matter, need to get enough rest. How do they do it?

First, they prepare for their trip by going through rigorous training exercises that help their bodies grow accustomed to sleeping in a low gravity cabin. Their bodies may not comply in that moment, so while they’re in space they take a lot of precautions in order to prevent certain distractions. For example, to eliminate any light or heat from the sun they will cover up nearby windows in their cabin. Some may even wear black sleeping masks to cover their eyes completely. To drive out noise from the surrounding spacecraft, they’ll often wear earplugs.

Astronauts have to eliminate light because in space they actually get a sunrise every 90 minutes. That’s how long it takes the International Space Station and other craft to orbit the Earth.

On average, even with all of those countermeasures astronauts generally lose about 30 to 60 minutes of sleep every night.

In addition, astronauts have a different diet that includes a lot of resistant starch, or foods that offer the benefits of both soluble and insoluble fibers. They also eat a lot of freeze dried snacks and foods. They still get their liquids though, don’t worry. A lot of times they even goof around and shoot the globs of fluid into their mouths. Long story short, the special diet helps them keep their energy and strength and even helps regulate healthy sleeping patterns.

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