New Light Technology Solves Naptime Problems for Astronauts

If you think getting a good night’s sleep on Earth is tough imagine trying to fall asleep with a sunrise occurring nearly every 90 minutes. While it may seem counter-intuitive, these are the conditions under which our astronauts have to live and work while they are in orbit. This can seriously mess with their bodies internal clocks which makes getting adequate shut-eye, and more importantly, remaining alert and able to go about their responsibilities very difficult.

The biological reason for this “space insomnia” is because the body’s sleep functions are initiated by a hormone called melatonin. Melatonin is produced by the body when the eye detects darkness. In the case of our intrepid space travelers this overabundance of light disrupts their melatonin production and the result is a lot of tossing and turning for the crew members on the International Space Station (ISS).

Now, through the magic of science, photobiologists may have come up with a solution. After recreating the ISS sleeping quarters, researchers then installed color and brightness adjustable LEDs. Volunteers were then brought in to take a “light-bath” as they changed the colors of the LEDs. As expected, the lower the light, the more melatonin present in the volunteers which increases the chances of falling and staying asleep.

These studies also showed which colored light would be best for sleeping and keeping astronauts alert. Red-shifted light allowed volunteers to fall asleep while bluish light would wake them up. After NASA completes some additional testing on whether this kind of sleep is deep enough to be restful, they hope to have LED color and brightness adjusted bulbs installed in the actual crew quarters of the ISS by 2016.

Photo credit: Wired

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