For this observational study, we recruited crew members assigned to Space Transportation System shuttle flights with in-flight experiments between July 12, 2001, and July 21, 2011, or assigned to International Space Station (ISS) expeditions between Sept 18, 2006, and March 16, 2011. We assessed sleep—wake timing objectively via wrist actigraphy, and subjective sleep characteristics and hypnotic drug use via daily logs, in-flight and during Earth-based data-collection intervals: for 2 weeks scheduled about 3 months before launch, 11 days before launch until launch day, and for 7 days upon return to Earth.
We collected data from 64 astronauts on 80 space shuttle missions (26 flights, 1063 in-flight days) and 21 astronauts on 13 ISS missions (3248 in-flight days), with ground-based data from all astronauts (4014 days). Crew members attempted and obtained significantly less sleep per night as estimated by actigraphy during space shuttle missions (7·35 h [SD 0·47] attempted, 5·96 h [0·56] obtained), in the 11 days before spaceflight (7·35 h [0·51], 6·04 h [0·72]), and about 3 months before spaceflight (7·40 h [0·59], 6·29 h [0·67]) compared with the first week post-mission (8·01 h [0·78], 6·74 h [0·91]; p<0·0001 for both measures). Crew members on ISS missions obtained significantly less sleep during spaceflight (6·09 h [0·67]), in the 11 days before spaceflight (5·86 h [0·94]), and during the 2-week interval scheduled about 3 months before spaceflight (6·41 h [SD 0·65]) compared with in the first week post-mission (6·95 h [1·04]; p<0·0001). 61 (78%) of 78 shuttle-mission crew members reported taking a dose of sleep-promoting drug on 500 (52%) of 963 nights; 12 (75%) of 16 ISS crew members reported using sleep-promoting drugs.
Sleep deficiency in astronauts was prevalent not only during space shuttle and ISS missions, but also throughout a 3 month preflight training interval. Despite chronic sleep curtailment, use of sleep-promoting drugs was pervasive during spaceflight. Because chronic sleep loss leads to performance decrements, our findings emphasise the need for development of effective countermeasures to promote sleep.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration.