The success of a manned space mission depends on the well-being of the crew. Sleep in space has been the concern of researchers from the earliest days of manned space flight. In the new frontier of space exploration one of the great problems to be solved relates to sleep. Although many reports indicate that sleep in space differs only in minor ways from terrestrial sleep, such as being somewhat less comfortable, a consistent finding has been that sleep duration in space is shorter than that on the ground. This review considers the accumulating evidence that the main reason for the shorter duration of sleep in space is the absence of gravity. This evidence shows that, similar to the effect of many other environmental variables like light, sound and cold, gravity has a measurable impact on sleep structure. As opposed to ground, in zero gravity conditions the innate, permanent, and almost unconscious effort to maintain posture and equilibrium is reduced while simultaneously the vigilance against gravity or "the fear of falling" diminishes. These phenomena may potentially explain research findings that REM sleep latency and duration are shorter in space. This assumption also implies that sleep on ground is due in part to the effort to compensate for the presence of gravity and its effects on the posture and motion of the human body: an ignored and unsuspected contribution to sleep.
Keywords: Astronaut; Environment; Gravity; Mars; Neurophysiology; Sleep.
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