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Circadian Rhythms, Sleep, and Performance in Space

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Mallis MM, DeRoshia CW. Circadian rhythms, sleep, and performance in space. Aviat Space Environ Med 2005; 76(6, Suppl.): B94–107.

Maintaining optimal alertness and neurobehavioral functioning during space operations is critical to enable the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) vision “to extend humanity’s reach to the Moon, Mars and beyond” to become a reality. Field data have demonstrated that sleep times and performance of crewmembers can be compromised by extended duty days, irregular work schedules, high workload, and varying environmental factors. This paper documents evidence of significant sleep loss and disruption of circadian rhythms in astronauts and associated performance decrements during several space missions, which demonstrates the need to develop effective countermeasures. Both sleep and circadian disruptions have been identified in the Behavioral Health and Performance (BH&P) area and the Advanced Human Support Technology (AHST) area of NASA’s Bioastronautics Critical Path Roadmap. Such disruptions could have serious consequences on the effectiveness, health, and safety of astronaut crews, thus reducing the safety margin and increasing the chances of an accident or incident. These decrements oftentimes can be difficult to detect and counter effectively in restrictive operational environments. NASA is focusing research on the development of optimal sleep/wake schedules and countermeasure timing and application to help mitigate the cumulative effects of sleep and circadian disruption and enhance operational performance. Investing research in humans is one of NASA’s building blocks that will allow for both short- and long-duration space missions and help NASA in developing approaches to manage and overcome the human limitations of space travel. In addition to reviewing the current state of knowledge concerning sleep and circadian disruptions during space operations, this paper provides an overview of NASA’s broad research goals. Also, NASA-funded research, designed to evaluate the relationships between sleep quality, circadian rhythm stability, and performance proficiency in both ground-based simulations and space mission studies, as described in the 2003 NASA Task Book, will be reviewed.
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Keywords: alertness; circadian rhythms; fatigue; human space operations; performance; sleep

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2005

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