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Electrostimulation during astronauts' sleep cycle

Resting astronaut aboard the International Space Station - NASA 2010

In this article, we will develop an optimized use of a recent technology available in space exploration. We will explore the existing potential of muscular electrostimulation devices for the benefit of astronauts.


Muscles reaction in space: Studies shown astronauts' muscle mass decreased up by 20% during space flight of five to eleven days. This phenomenon is called muscular atrophy, and is particularly dangerous because of its impact on muscle mass, heart, and bone density of astronauts. To alleviate muscle atrophy, astronauts undergo intensive physical training, more specifically strength training, and always have a healthy, adequate diet. Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have to devote two and a half hours each day to their physical training, which reduces the effectiveness of the mission.

Electrostimulation (EMS): Electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) works through use of devices to voluntarily trigger muscles contractions via electrical impulses. These pulses are generated by a particular device and then sent through the skin by electrodes. The electrodes' muscles proximity allows the impulses to mimic the signals from the subject's central nervous system, thereby causing contractions, thus strengthening the muscles.

EMS in space: In 2010 a new use of EMS technologies appeared thanks to an experiment conducted by ESA (European Space Agency) to use EMS for the benefit of astronauts. Companies such as Slendertone and Bio Medical Research participated in a test flight, organized in France by ESA, to carry out tests with EMS technology adapted to a non-gravitational environment. The long term goal is to help stimulate astronauts' muscles to optimize the effective work time in space (such as in ISS).

Sleep in space: Astronauts have about 8.5 hours to sleep each day under stricts conditions. Many of them say that 6 hours is enough to feel rested.

Idea shot :

The idea proposed in this article is to use EMS during the astronauts' sleep cycle to save valuable time. This way it would not interfere with their work, and not hamper them as a portable device could, allowing greater freedom of movement and better control of motricity during work. Given the complexity and dangerousness of the environment in which they operate, time is a very precious resource: the hours of sleep and the time of physical training represent a significant amount of their day. Sleep time could be used for electrostimulation to reduce the daily time of physical training, enabling the newly unlocked time to be used for reasearch.

To ensure restorative sleep among astronauts, the developed device could offer a softer electrostimulation over a longer time period (sleep time). An approach with more aggressive electrostimulation during sleep may require the use of medication to ensure a restful slumber, but this would increase the payload to bring in space.

However, it is recognized that EMS alone is not enough to protect astronauts from muscular atrophy, but it remains interesting to develop a system for practicing electrostimulation during astronauts' sleep.

Open to thoughts:

Today, the colonization of the Moon and Mars becomes a international growing concern, the use of a device to save time on a daily basis keeps its importance and should merit the commitment of financials means to be developed. This application of EMS technology would save much time for Moon or Mars settlers.

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