Millennium Post

‘Space age jetlag can be controlled’

Since August, NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has been roaming all over the distant planet learning as much as it can about the Martian terrain.

Its mission control team has also learned what it may be like on Mars by trying to live and work on a Martian day, which is about 40 minutes longer than an Earth day.

This ‘day’ length causes havoc with the internal 24-hour body clock, but researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital [BWH] have developed and tested a fatigue management programme, which is successful at controlling this space-age jetlag, the journal SLEEP reports.

‘Our study, which was conducted during the Phoenix Mars Lander mission, investigated the effectiveness of a pilot programme to educate the mission personnel on how to reset their body clocks more quickly and how to improve their sleep, alertness and performance,’ explained Steven W. Lockley, neuroscientist at BWH, and senior study investigator, according to a BWH statement.

The team studied scientific and technical personnel supporting the Phoenix Lander mission for more than 11 weeks. They were assessed using a sleep/work diary, continuous wrist actigraphy, and regular performance tests.

‘While adapting the human sleep-wake and performance cycle to a 24.65-hour day is a substantial challenge, our study has provided the foundation to develop comprehensive fatigue management programmes for future missions, which may eventually include manned missions to Mars,’ explained Laura Barger, associate physiologist at BWH and principal study investigator.

‘Such a programme could decrease the risk of fatigue-related mistakes during these high profile and expensive missions,’ added Barger. Researchers suggest that these findings may prove helpful to groups that work on unusual ‘day-lengths’, such as submariners who live on an 18-hour day.


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