Insomnia & Astronauts


I don’t know about you, my dear readers, but, from time to time, the gringa has some very nasty bouts of insomnia. Whether it’s my hormones, my epilepsy, the caveman’s snoring or the business of my crazily creative mind, it matters not. All that matters is that when it happens I am miserable the next day. Perhaps I’m more like an astronaut than I realize. It seems that sleep deprivation is a standard side effect of microgravity.

Poor, little astronauts, like the poor, little gringa, suffer disruptions of their circadian rhythms (fancy word for biological clock). What are astronauts and astronaut hopefuls to do? Why the heck does this happen? Can it be stopped?

The biological clock of Earthlings is synchronized to a 24 hour cycle. The orbiting astronaut gets a clock reset every 45 minutes. That’s how often they experience a sunrise or sunset. Can you imagine the horror? The gringa would make an incredibly grumpy astronaut. But, then again, maybe not, not if I’m taking some good meds. The astronauts do. They have to use sleep-promoting medication (techno-speak for sleeping pills).

When the gringa breaks down and takes a sleeping pill (usually at the urging of the caveman, or the ninos, who beg me to get a good night’s sleep so I will not be a possessed, crazy person), I often wake up the next day and feel like I have a brain wrapped in gauze. I can’t think straight. My energy level is flat. I eye you suspiciously as you carry on an intelligent conversation. I pad back and forth to the kitchen for coffee refills. I pout because my old, cheerful, trouble-making self has retreated to the very dark recesses of my drug-fogged mind. How in the heck do the astronauts manage a dangerous spacewalk and intricate equipment repair under the influence? The gringa is baffled.

This is a very delicate health and security situation that NASA studies like mad. A recent study gathered data on over twenty astronauts for a period spanning over eight years. Scientists studied astronauts sleep patterns beginning with eleven days before launch and the sleep logs maintained during missions which recorded sleep medication usage and sleep quality. Astronauts who participated wore monitors that also collected data about their wakefulness: how often they woke when sleeping, how long they remained awake, and why they were awakened.

Some of the things the study determined affected sleep quality:

  • Rapid schedule changes (the gringa likes a rut so, yes, I agree)
  • Exposure to natural light during sleep cycle (yes, the gringa and her caveman prefer to sleep in a cave)
  • Exposure to unnatural light (yes, the gringa often resists her body’s signals to go to sleep because she has just GOT to win that last darn hand of Spider Solitaire)

On average, astronauts sleep about six hours per night when aboard the ISS (good grief, IF ONLY! Six hours? The gringa would die for such a nightly average!). One interesting finding was that sleep patterns were also affected by where the launch originates from. When launching from Kazakhstan, astronauts slept better than when launched from Florida. The gringa ponders the possibility of going away parties involving copious amounts of Russian vodka? Hmmm, maybe the gringa should recreate a Russian tundra scene in the boudoir. Wonder how the caveman would like it?

It seems that NASA has probably spent millions to discover things the gringa could have told them (big sigh, why am I NOT an astronaut, yet?). So, it seems that apart from maintaining my no-drama rut, the gringa needs to focus on exposure to lighting for the best case scenario for a good night’s sleep. This is actually very important because the caveman works the night shift. Our sleep cycle is from around 4am until about noon. We are very sexy sleepers, the caveman with his snore strip across his nose, looking like a prize-fighter, and me with my supersonic, hot pink earplugs poking out my ears, looking like some freakishly hip female Frankenstein.

The window will surely be our death in case of fire. The blinds are always down, then there’s a layer of those hideous light blocking curtains covered up with a gorgeous and colorful hand-made quilt from my auntie. Yes, no escape there in case of fire. But, it does make it the perfect, pitch black cave for the gringa and her caveman. And the rule in our house is that there are no computers or televisions allowed in the bedroom.

It seems I have all the bases covered where lighting is concerned. Why the heck do I still get insomnia? It can only be one thing. The problem is all in my head. Yes, literally in my head. In my busy, can’t stop thinking, must be creating, little head. Perhaps a lobotomy? Methinks not. I’ll stick with the hot toddies, all alone, curled up on the couch, pouting while the caveman is enjoying the bliss of REMs. Maybe I’ll step out on the patio and shake my little fist at the stars, toward the astronauts I am so envious of who are probably enjoying their darn six hour average snooze.

Source & Photo Credit:  www.nasa.gov

 

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Astronauts In The Pool


Astronauts and swimming. The two don’t seem to go together, huh? Big surprise, they do! Just about any day of the week astronauts enter NASA’s Johnson Space Center, don a spacesuit and go for a swim in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL). The “laboratory” is actually a six million gallon swimming pool warmed to a constant 86 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are susceptible to vertigo, then for heaven’s sake, if you take a tour, don’t climb up on one of the cranes and look down into what is the largest indoor pool in the world.

Astronauts train for space walks in this 200 feet x 100 feet wide x 40 feet deep state of the art aquatics facility. However, they are not diving in to get their swim on. They first descend to an elevated deck that sits at a depth of twenty feet. Stage two is another twenty foot descent to the floor of the pool. This submerged laboratory contains life-size models of some of the most important components of the International Space Station (ISS). In an underwater environment that simulates microgravity, astronauts do some very serious training.

If you have ever watched NASA videos of tethered astronauts floating around in space repairing one of the eleven trusses that support the ISS’s radiator or solar arrays, this pool is where they did the training for such work. By rehearsing spacewalks in this way, astronauts become familiar with the effects microgravity will have not only upon the movements of their bodies, but also how it will affect the objects and tools they may use.

After a crew is briefed on their mission, they enter the pool and do not return until the mission is complete. This could mean remaining submerged for up to six hours. When they have received the order, and the team is assembled on deck, they are lowered into the pool by cranes. They quickly get to work practicing such routine maintenance tasks as re-routing the cables that connect the modules of the space station or repairing the solar arrays.

Now this all sounds very impressive, but, the gringa has to ask, “Is this super expensive aquatic laboratory and space station worth all of those taxpayer’s dimes? I mean, what’s the point of it all?” The gringa has an insatiable curiosity. I just have to know. Fortunately, because NASA is funded by taxpayers, their work is an open book.

Many of the ongoing biological experiments at ISS study the long term effects being in space has upon human and animal physiology. This helps prepare astronauts for their trips as well as anticipate and manage any health complications when they return home. Such research also will help to determine if it is ever possible for humans to colonize space and live out a normal life span there.

Such things as the human reproductive system are studied. I mean, what’s the point of colonizing outer space if the colonists can’t reproduce? The seed of civilization in some far off galaxy would just die out within one generation. Effects of long term exposure to microgravity upon the human immune system must also be understood. Eventually a colonist is bound to get sick or break a bone or receive a nasty cut. Which, then, leads to cosmic scientists exploring the possibilities of developing the basic building blocks that would allow self-sufficient medicine development in outer space.

Pharmaceuticals often have their origins in organic material, such as plants. ISS experiments also study the development of enclosed ecosystems. If humans are to ever live in space, they will need to find a way to successfully farm in artificial environments. These studies are not just about the future space farming of tomato crops. Astronaut scientists also explore the possibility of raising protein livestock such as fish and quail.

So, astronauts are not just up there having the most expensive camp out of their lives. They are developing the science and methods that will be needed if mankind is ever to inhabit another place as “home” other than Earth.

Does the gringa think it’s all worth it? I suppose so. I suppose I have to consider the possibility that some knucklehead leader of a country may go totally off the rails one day and trigger a catastrophe that may have a widespread impact on our world. That may be the time to just pack up and leave this world behind and head for the stars. I just hope that if that day does ever come, I’m able to bring my little dog along.

Source:  http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments_category.html

Photo credit: www.nasa.gov