Thursday, 17 May, 2007 Science

Scientists to Adjust The Human Brain's Clock For Easier Adaptation to the 24.65 Hour Day On Mars


Scientists from Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s (BWH) Division of Sleep Medicine discovered that if a person is exposed in the evening to two 45 minutes of bright light pulses this could lead to the synchronization of the individual's circadian system, which will be able to work properly longer than the usual 24 hour light/dark cycle.

The research was performed for NASA’s National Space Biomedical Research Institute. The results of the research showed that a human can be prepared for a year-and-a-half visit to Mars. It is worth mentioning that one Martian day lasts 24.65 hours. Not being able to reset the internal clock, in order to carry through the longer day, a person would feel like being in a continuous state of sleep disturbance.

Researchers studied 12 healthy participants aged between 22 to 33, who had regularly slept 8 hour a day and were awake 16 hours for a period of at least three weeks before the beginning of the study.

All the participants at the study had individual rooms. For 65 days they were regularly exposed to light, opportunities to sleep, eat and take showers.

Firstly scientists determined the intrinsic period of the inner brain clock of every participant. Researches were able to determine the period of time when the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin was released from the pineal gland. This means that researchers determined the biological differences in the timing of the times when people often prefer to sleep (morning and evening types).

During the next step individuals had a 30 day period of longer-than-24 hour days, living in one of three light/dark conditions. The first scenario represented an exposure to dim light, room lighting and an articulated light exposure of dim light for the first ten hours of the waking day, proceeded by room light of 100 lux for the rest the waking day and an exposure to pulses of bright light, having about 9500 lux (which is almost the daylight), for two 45 minutes.

Scientists found that individuals who participated in the study could synchronize their sleep/wake cycles for a period of time longer than a 24 hour day.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration Cooperative Agreement NCC 9-58 together with the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, NASA grant NAG 5-3952 and the National Center for Research Resources – National Institutes of Health Grant were the ones to support the study.

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