This Is What It's Really Like to Sleep in Space

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/ March 15, 2021
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We all know a good night’s sleep can provide out-of-this-world rewards such as alertness, energy, and vigor. But what’s it like to sleep when you are literally out of this world? And how do you sleep at all when the very idea of “night” doesn’t apply?

Because we're obsessed with all things sleep here at Saatva, we thought it'd be fun to take a closer look at what sleeping in space entails. What, exactly, do astronauts do to make their allotted eight-hour sleep time count? How do you sleep in space? Keep reading to find out.

How do astronauts sleep in space?

In a recent interview with Travel & Leisure, retired NASA astronaut Scott Kelly shared plenty of details about sleeping in space. (After spending 520 days in space during his career, he certainly qualifies as an expert on space sleep!)

“Space isn’t as spacious as you might think, particularly when it comes to your bedroom," he said. He noted that astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) sleep in crew quarters roughly the size of an old-style phone booth.

And forget the idea of stretching out horizontally on your bed. Microgravity means you can’t really lie down anywhere.

“Sleeping is harder here in space than on a bed,” said Kelly during a Reddit AMA while on an extended stint onboard the ISS, “because the sleep position here is the same position throughout the day. You don’t ever get that sense of gratifying relaxation that you do on Earth after a long day at work.”

Because you have no sensation of lying down or being upside down in whatever position you choose, you can even sleep on the ceiling—the preferred sleep platform of retired NASA astronaut Mike Massimino.

“I set up my sleeping bag so I would hook it to the ceiling so I could float up there like a bat, which was pretty cool,” said Massimino, in a video interview with Wired.

Massimino explained that the sleeping bag isn’t the kind you use at camp.

“It’s more like a bedroll with a lot of straps and hooks on it so you can hook it to things," he said. "You don’t want to get in your sleeping bag and float around the cabin, wake your friends and knock your head, so you attach it to things.”

He also pointed out that even with the sleeping bag tethered to the wall (or ceiling), you're still floating inside of it.

Besides the sleeping bag, the sleep station also contains a computer, books, clothes, “and other things that make it my home,” said NASA astronaut Sunita Lyn (Sunny) Williams, in a fascinating video tour she provided inside the ISS, her dark hair floating weightlessly around her head.

How much sleep do astronauts need?

In the Wired interview, Massimino also noted that NASA’s main concern about astronauts’ sleep is that they get sufficient rest. That's because they need to be as sharp as they can be for their complex jobs. He said that even astronauts are allowed to bring their own teddy bears—he brought his Snoopy—if it will help them get rest. (Learn about the benefits of sleeping with a stuffed animal.)

“You do need your eight hours,” said Massimino. “Maybe you sleep more in space because you want to be at the top of your game.”

It took him a couple of days and “a mild sleep medication” to get used to sleeping in space, said Massimino, “ but after I did, it was probably the best sleep I’ve ever had.”

Interested in more extreme sleep stories? Learn about what it's like to sleep in an igloowhat it's like to sleep on the side of a cliff, and what it's like to sleep in the middle of the desert.

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