Space research says you shouldn’t use your phone before sleep

Two new sleep studies on the International Space Station are helping astronauts and folks here on earth get a better night's rest.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Representational image of a woman using her phone in bed.jpg
Representational image of a woman using her phone in bed.


“Have you ever been told not to look at your phone before bed? This is because the blue light affects your Circadian rhythm - your natural response to changes of daylight,” reads a European Space Agency (ESA) X post from Friday.

Two studies: Circadian light and sleep in orbit

ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen is currently conducting sleep research on the International Space Station. His mission is called Huginn and it consists of two studies that seek to understand more about Circadian light and sleep in orbit.

“Astronauts on the Space Station do a full circle of Earth every 90 minutes and experience 16 sunsets and sunrises every day. With this unearthly routine, astronauts can struggle to find a natural daily rhythm in space. The Space Station follows Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), which helps keep a consistent schedule, along with regular wake-up and bedtime routines,” said the ESA press release published on Thursday.

Circadian rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioral natural processes that follow a 24-hour cycle and respond primarily to light and dark. They affect most living beings, including animals, plants, and microbes.

In space, these rhythms are distorted meaning astronauts could suffer from insomnia and inadequate and disrupted sleep. In order to avoid these dire consequences, Mogensen has been using a special light developed by SAGA Space Architects from Copenhagen, Denmark. It consists of a specialized lamp specifically engineered to support the circadian rhythm of astronauts in space.

In the evening, when Mogensen wants to sleep, the light turns red just like a sunset would. In the morning, it turns blue to simulate the sun rising on a bright clear day.

An in-ear measuring device to track brain activity

For the sleeping in orbit study, Mogensen is making use of an in-ear measuring device that tracks the electroencephalogram (EEG) of his brain. The invention is the work of researchers from Aarhus University, Denmark, and allows them to evaluate his brain activity throughout the night.

Researchers of the two studies are working together to pull all their data and better understand sleep in space as well as on earth. The findings are especially relevant in this day and age as research indicates that climate change is interfering with our sleeping patterns.

A 2022 study found that global warming is making humanity lose essential sleep and the effect is worse in people from developing nations.

“Our results indicate that sleep—an essential restorative process integral for human health and productivity—may be degraded by warmer temperatures,” said at the time the lead author of the study Kelton Minor, in a press statement. 

“Across seasons, demographics, and different climate contexts, warmer outside temperatures consistently erode sleep, with the amount of sleep loss progressively increasing as temperatures become hotter.”

Although the ESA studies do not take into account warmer temperatures, their results could offer tips and suggestions on better sleep which may counteract the loss of sleep caused by a hotter climate. Since the studies are undertaken in extreme space conditions, they may offer solutions to lack of sleep caused by extreme weather events.

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