Decreased Human Circadian Pacemaker Influence After 100 Days in Space: A Case Study

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Abstract

Objective

The objectives of this study were (1) to assess the circadian rhythms and sleep of a healthy, 42-year-old male astronaut experiencing microgravity (weightlessness) for nearly 5 months while living aboard Space Station Mir as it orbited Earth and (2) to determine the effects of prolonged space flight on the endogenous circadian pacemaker, as indicated by oral temperature and subjective alertness rhythms, and their ramifications for sleep, alertness, and performance.

Methods

For three 12- to 14-day blocks of time (spread throughout the mission), oral temperatures were taken and subjective alertness was self-rated five times per day. Sleep diaries and performance tests were also completed daily during each block.

Results

Examination of the subject’s circadian alertness and oral temperature rhythms suggested that the endogenous circadian pacemaker seemed to function quite well up to 90 days in space. Thereafter (on days 110–122), the influence of the endogenous circadian pacemaker on oral temperature and subjective alertness circadian rhythms was considerably weakened, with consequent disruptions in sleep.

Conclusions

Space missions lasting more than 3 months might result in diminished circadian pacemaker influence in astronauts, leading to eventual sleep problems.

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