Shuttle crewmembers must frequently alter sleep/wake schedules to accommodate launch and mission timelines. These “alterations” tend to maximize sleep disruption and fatigue leading to a decreased operational “safety margin” during inflight operations.
Changes in normal sleep/wake cycles have been shown to disrupt physiological circadian rhythm causing fatigue, decreased alertness, increased irritability, altered judgement, and increased vulnerability to performance decrements.
To minimize the impact of schedule shifts, and maximize sleep and physiological adaptation, the NASA operational environment has implemented a program to address these complex issues. The program plan “operationalizes” the experimental protocol used by Czeisler et al. (1990), which involves timed exposure to bright light during the targeted activity period and complete darkness during the targeted sleep period to rapidly shift crewmembers.
Preliminary results of this intervention demonstrate that exposure to bright light at the appropriate time in the circadian schedule resulted in excellent sleep and physiological adaptation of flight crewmembers. Results of this operational intervention and implications for future mission support are presented and discussed.