Sleep in Space: All About Arms Control

By Terry Cralle

There’s no better feeling than climbing into your comfortable bed, and your head hitting the pillow, after a long, hard day. But what if your long, hard day was spent working on the International Space Station? Imagine what it’s like to sleep in space. Astronauts need their sleep, just like everyone else—but, at more than 200 miles above the earth, with about 15 sunrises and sunsets a day and no gravity, how exactly does your head hit the pillow?

As it turns out, if an astronaut chooses to sleep with a pillow in space, it must be strapped to their head to keep it from floating away. There are no beds or mattresses in space, but there is a neat system in place to ensure astronauts get that much needed shut-eye. Each astronaut has a sleeping bag that must be attached to a wall to keep him or her from floating around and bumping into things in the space station while sleeping. The sleeping bag has armholes, and some astronauts say that if they don’t cross their arms, they look like zombies with their arms floating above, or in front of, them while they sleep. Some astronauts have said they have even slapped themselves awake with their floating arms!

Many astronauts say they sleep very well in space— which is easy to imagine since they are literally floating! However, those astronauts who stay in space for an extended period of time report missing the feeling of lying down and having their head on a pillow. Just as it is for those of us on earth, sufficient sleep is critical for the astronauts to be alert, attentive and perform at their very best.

So think of the astronauts floating when you climb into bed tonight. Getting that much-needed sleep here on earth is much easier than in space, and just as important. Today’s technologically advanced bedding allows you to have the best of both worlds: you feel as comfortable as an astronaut floating in space, but with the added luxury of lying down on a mattress and pillow— and without the zombie arms!

Terry Cralle Full BWTerry is a Registered Nurse, Certified Clinical Sleep Educator and Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality, specializing exclusively in sleep health and wellness. Terry is the co-founder of a sleep disorders clinic and serves as a consultant to a variety of industries and organizations on the topic of sleep health. Terry recently completed her first book on sleep, Sleeping Your Way to the Top as well as a series of children’s books We Get Sleep.