A team of researchers has analyzed data on the impact of prolonged operational confinement on sleep, performance, and mood in astronauts from a groundbreaking international effort to simulate a 520-day space mission to Mars. The findings revealed alterations of life-sustaining sleep patterns and neurobehavioral consequences for crew members that must be addressed for successful adaption to prolonged space missions.

The 520-day simulated mission, involving an international, six-man team of volunteers, featured more than 90 experiments and realistic scenarios to gather valuable psychological and medical data on the effects of a long-term deep space flight.

Measurements included continuous recordings of body movements using wrist actigraphy (a noninvasive means of estimating sleep and movement intensity), and light exposure and weekly computer-based neurobehavioral assessments to identify changes in the crew's activity levels, sleep quantity and quality, sleep–wake intervals, alertness performance, and workload throughout the 17 months of mission confinement.

Data from the actigraph devices revealed that crew sedentariness increased across the mission, as illustrated by decreased waking movement and increased sleep and rest times. The majority of crewmembers also experienced one or more disturbances of sleep quality, alertness deficits, or altered sleep–wake intervals and timing, suggesting inadequate circadian synchronization.

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