Astronauts relied on sleeping pills in space

More than three-fourths of astronauts may use sleeping pills during space flight, which may lead to potential dangers, according to a new study.

Scientists at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Harvard Medical School and the University of Colorado looked at data on 64 astronauts on 80 shuttle missions and 21 astronauts aboard International Space Station (ISS) missions, who collectively spent 4,200 nights in space.

The researchers found that the astronauts fell below NASA's recommendations for eight hours of sleep per night. Those on shuttle missions averaged fewer than six hours of sleep per night, while the astronauts on the space station got a little more than six hours of sleep per night on average.

The researchers also found that about 78 percent of the astronauts on shuttle missions used sleeping medications, such as zolpidem and zaleplon, on more than half of their nights in space, while about 75 percent of the astronauts on the space station used sleeping medications during space flight.

The findings, published in Lancet Neurology, warn that crew members operating spacecraft may not  be able to optimally perform their job duties if under the influence of a sleep-promiting medication. The knonwn side effects of sleeping pills--such as drowsiness, decreased mental alertness and decreased coordination--are of particular concern if astronauts under the influence are awakened in the middle of the night by an emergency alarm.

Experts concluded that more effective measures need to be taken to help promote adequate sleep for astronauts, both during training and in space flight.

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Sourced from: Washington Post, Study: Sleepless in space, astronauts rely on sleeping pills unsuited to ‘hazardous occupations’