A UK university and the European Space Agency are launching a sleep study that hopes to simultaneously tackle health problems shared by astronauts and the elderly.
The University of Surrey is participating in a project organized by the space agency, during which teams of European scientists will look at the effect of bed rest on the human body using a continuous bed rest protocol to simulate the effects of micro gravity in space.
They hope to learn more about complaints shared by both astronauts and the elderly, such as bone and muscle loss, poor immune systems and increased inflammation.
Young, healthy male volunteers will spend two weeks living ‘normally’ in the lab. They will then undergo 60 days of continuous bed rest, with beds tilted backwards by six degrees to simulate micro gravity. The experiment will end with a two-week recovery period. Half the volunteers will form the control group, while the other half will be given an anti-oxidant drug cocktail designed to suppress inflammation.
During the experiment, scientists will measure changes to the participants’ sleep/wake patterns by monitoring brain activity with electroencephalography (EEG) and by tracking levels of melatonin — the hormone that helps regulate the body clock. Regular blood samples will also be taken to monitor how genes change in response to the simulated micro gravity. By investigating how the conditions disrupt sleep and body clocks, the study will help identify the genetic processes that contribute to the health problems experienced by both the elderly and astronauts in space.
Lead researcher, Dr Simon Archer from the University of Surrey, said “This study will not only provide valuable insight into how health problems experienced by astronauts in space can be avoided, but it will also bring us one step closer to understanding the mechanisms associated with the aging process.”
“Our research will provide more details about some of the molecular processes that are affected by micro gravity simulation, and how these relate to low muscle and bone mass, suppressed immune function and increased inflammation. It will give the European Space Agency more molecular data on whether drug interventions can reduce these harmful effects.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Interested in space? Check out our 2013 Postcards from Pillow program. On September 23, 2013, at the end of the program, we celebrated the first Pillownauts in history, when five SleepBetter plush pillows were sent into space. Learn more Postcards from Pillows by clicking here.