…cosmonaut Valentin Lebedev reported in his diary that he had a tendency to make mistakes on days following an unusually late bedtime; on one occasion he took fifty Earth-observation photographs through a closed porthole before realizing his error.
So NASA started doing some serious research.
3 Big Insights On Sleep
They quickly realized a few things:
1) You’re a slave to external cues
Without light, darkness and other contextual signals, your ability to regulate sleep times can be a mess.
If the individual is isolated without access to any time cues, however, the sleep/wake cycle and body temperature rhythms drift toward later times each day and are expressed in free-running periods of 25.4 hours; at this rate an individual’s sleep/wake cycle could drift nearly 10 hours per week in the absence of diurnal cues… In extreme cases, an individual can cycle completely around the clock.
3) You’re not very good at judging sleep quality
You may think sleeping with the lights on doesn’t affect you, but it does. And you won’t necessarily notice your reduced performance the next day, either.
…it is a folklore belief that all people adapt to regular sounds and are not affected by noises perceived during their sleep. In fact, the sleep of most people is disturbed by even the most regular sounds; for some individuals, the quality of sleep can be reduced without conscious recognition or complete awakening.
Today our bodies have become thoroughly confused by the artificial signals of modern life. Light is no longer a cyclical function of the sun, but of always-on indoor lights, TV screens, and computer monitors. Temperature no longer follows a dynamic cycle of cooling at night and warming during the day but sits at a static level set by the thermostat. Human chatter and social interaction used to follow a natural ebb and flow, but now we are more likely to live and sleep in isolation from real people, even while we have 24/7 access to artificial people (faces on TV, voices on the radio). Then, after utterly confusing our circadian rhythm, we try to take back control with stimulants (caffeine, nicotine) and depressants (alcohol, sleeping pills). Is it any wonder that a third of Americans are chronically sleep-deprived?
Maybe you think this doesn’t affect you — or at least not much.
…by the end of two weeks, the six-hour sleepers were as impaired as those who, in another Dinges study, had been sleep-deprived for 24 hours straight — the cognitive equivalent of being legally drunk.
But what did the chronically sleep deprived say when asked how they felt? “It’s not affecting me.”
Even 14 days into the study, they said sleepiness was not affecting them. In fact, their performance had tanked. In other words, the sleep-deprived among us are lousy judges of our own sleep needs. We are not nearly as sharp as we think we are.
So if you are having reduced performance due to sleep issues, you may not be aware. This is a problem.
Given you probably don’t have to deal with the thruster jets ofSkylab waking you up or the sounds of the hull of your ship expanding and contracting, I’ve edited the recommendations down to four points:
Maintain a consistent schedule, even on weekends.Keep in mind the “free-running” problem. Your body will push later if given the chance.
Take an hour to wind down before bed. Yes, you’re busy. But your time is not more precious than an astronaut’s. So take the time to wind down.
If you don’t have strong day/night cues, add them. Get sunlight in the morning. Dim the lights at night. Turn electronics off as bedtime approaches or use an application likef.lux.
Keep your bedroom dark, cool and free from noise.Even if you think “the light doesn’t bother you” or “the noise isn’t that bad” it can still reduce sleep quality.
Durant offers another solid piece of advice I follow myself: forget the alarm clock in the morning; set an alarm to remind you to go to bed at night.
A useful technique is setting an alarm clock—not to wake up, but to get ready for bed. Set an alarm for an hour before bedtime. When it goes off, finish up any work on the computer, turn off the TV, turn off any unnecessary lights, and start to wind down for the day.
This prevents you from cheating yourself on sleep and allows you to wake up naturally.
(Even if “naturally” happens to be on the surface of the moon.)