Sleeping for science: What can we learn?

November 13, 2012
Checking the bed angle during the 2005 bedrest study. Credit: ESA

(—Why are 12 volunteers about to spend 21 days in bed, lying with their heads tilted below the horizontal? Their experience will help to understand and address changes in astronauts' bodies in space as well as in bedridden people on Earth.

Far from being a period of rest and relaxation, the volunteers in this bedrest study will undergo regular and intensive daily activities, including tests and examinations.

They will not be allowed to get up, not even once, for a breath of fresh air, a change of scenery, a shower or to use the toilet.

The volunteers in this study are expected to repeat their 21-day ordeal twice in the space of one year.

As we age, our bodies lose and . in space suffer similar changes but at a much faster rate than on Earth.

Finding ways to combat this process is important to space agencies, and everyone who plans on growing old.

In the name of scientific progress, the participants will be scientifically scrutinised to see how they adapt to staying in bed for long periods.

Bedrest volunteer in bed during a study conducted in 2005. Credit: ESA

The research is part of a wide range of international bedrest studies that aim to develop and test countermeasures to the challenges of living in space, ageing and long periods of immobilisation after illness.

Putting people in bed lying with their heads 6° below the horizontal for long periods causes their bodies to react in similar ways to being weightless, but is cheaper and safer than sending them into space.

Bodybuilding in bed

In this study the 12 volunteers are divided into three groups to test a set of countermeasures to muscle and .

The will spend 21 days in bed without any countermeasures, while a second group follows a schedule using resistive and vibrating exercise machines.

Bedrest volunteer using a resistive exercise machine. The footrests vibrate to exercise the leg muscles. Credit: ESA

The last group will use the exercise machines and eat of whey protein – a common supplement used by bodybuilders to train their muscles.

Although the properties of whey protein are well known to bodybuilders, will the protein help to maintain muscle strength without hours spent in the gym?

The healthy volunteers will participate in all the regimes one after the other over the course of the entire experiment of more than a year.

After the first 21-day session starting today, they will return to the clinic in Toulouse, France, for another session and once more in 2013 for a final session.

The volunteers will have four months between each bedrest session to recuperate, get some real rest and appreciate getting out of bed in the morning.

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not rated yet Nov 13, 2012
How are they going to use the restroom without getting out of bed? Diapers? Catheters? I'd be all-for this study if it weren't for that one puzzling detail. I feel bad for the third control group being fed supplements!
not rated yet Nov 13, 2012
How are they going to use the restroom without getting out of bed?

Bedpans (like in hospitals)

The institute I did my PhD at did a lot of these bedrest studies with ESA (actually they were also involved in the Berlin study which the second picture is taken from. The pic is either from the 2002 or 2004 trial, the latter being a 3 month bedrest study for ESA).
The institute does a lot of work on bone mineral density and morphology classification. The vibration plates shown in the pic had a significant effect in keeping bone denisty and structure up with even minimal use (5 minutes a day IIRC). They should definitely send one up to the ISS. Would save the astronauts about an hour's worth of training per day (doesn't completely replace muscle training, though.)

Participating in such a study may seem restful at first glance, but the position makes it actually quite stressfull (and not all participants last the entire trial).
Adam Brinckerhoff
not rated yet Nov 13, 2012
This is a fascinating study. I think it's vital to the future of space exploration to gather this type of data so we can be better prepared for long term spaceflight missions.

Also, what do you think spaceship cabins will look like? More like a commercial airline or a cruise ship? We're looking into it, so let us know what you think.

Adam Brinckerhoff
Development Engineer

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