Do Astronauts Snore in Space?

It might seem a trivial issue, but a it was a question of minor importance that grew into a big debate in the scientific community. Could astronauts snore? This was discussed from the early days of manned space flights and the debate has continued into the days of shuttle flights and the use of the space station.

Some believed that without normal gravity it was impossible to snore. The airflow would be wrong, there would be no possible way for the normal constriction of the throat to occur. How would there be vibration with no gravity?

Research on two space flights found some interesting sleep statistics. A 2001 study [1] conducted found that five astronauts actually stopped snoring completely while in space. As well, some who had suffered episodes of stopping breathing, called sleep apnea, had none when they were in space.

Gravity Required

This was a breakthrough. They had proveN that gravity was indeed necessary to constrict the airflow, aggravate the throat and cause the vibrations along the soft palate and uvula. No gravity made it easier to breathe. Oddly they also learned that astronauts sleep fewer hours and use sleeps medications to assist them in sleeping.

An earlier study was done in 1998 aboard the shuttle Columbia to see how astronauts sleep in the artificial environment of a space shuttle. The result surprised many scientists and sleep specialists when microphones picked up snores from the crew. They were surprised because the feeling was that astronauts likely breathed less.

The belief had been that they actually inhaled and exhaled less when floating in space. Scientists had wondered if breathing was harder up there. The astronauts wore assorted microphones and gear to measure all kinds of sleeping statistics. Comparisons were conducted to compare how the men slept on earth. Did they snore on Earth before they left?

Astronauts vs. Average Joes

This brought up many other questions [2] since astronauts are in excellent physical condition before going into space. Unlike those who are thought to be the typical snorer, an overweight man with a large neck who may drink, smoke or snack on dairy products late at night. Surely the average astronaut does not fit this picture.

Did the other sleep difficulties play any part in their snoring or not snoring? Many astronauts suffer from unending motion sickness as well as the fact that every ninety minutes the sun first sets and then ninety minutes later it rises again. This is a continuous series of events that can be difficult to acclimatize to.

One of the most interesting things about astronauts and snoring is the fact that there is still a lot of disagreement in the scientific community as whether they actually do snore or not. Studies have shown differing results and so there are those who will tell you that without gravity it would not be possible for them to snore. At the same time the Columbia study will be quoted back as proof they do snore. It seems that the only way to prove it conclusively will be to conduct further research.

References

    1. David F. Dinges, Ph.D “Sleep in Space Flight” Am. J. Respir. Crit. Care Med., Volume 164, Number 3, August 2001, 337-338

2. Santy PA, Kapanka H, Davis JR, Stewart DF. Analysis of sleep on shuttle missions. Aviat Space Environ Med 1988; 59: 1094-1097