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Say 'Aaah' | Booster Shots

Totally Wired--but Ready to Nod Off

April 26, 1999|ROSIE MESTEL

Sleep is kind of a theme this week in Health--check out Media Mix on this page for information on books simply stuffed with sleepy facts. Still, we bet that nowhere among all those many pages will you find this novel tip for a more restful night: Forget all that behavior modification and melatonin stuff. Just cover yourself with important-looking electrodes. The downside: You might have to rent a rocket ship to sleep in.

According to New Scientist magazine, Harvard sleep researcher Charles Czeisler stumbled upon this novel soporific after measuring sleep in shuttle astronauts last year (and astronauts, might we add, have quite a problem sleeping in space). Czeisler was actually trying to see if the standard NASA insomnia treatment--a smidge of melatonin--worked at all. (It didn't.) In the process, he stumbled on something strange.

On some nights astronauts wore wristwatch monitors. On others, they were festooned with wires and electrodes to painstakingly measure their body's vital signs while they slept. And guess what? The guys slept better on the wired nights.

Czeisler's best guess is that astronauts are super keyed up about their work when they're in orbit. That makes sleeping tricky. Covering them with wires, however, convinces them that sleeping is important to the mission. They relax, then off to sleep they go.

So, on the one hand, people are clever enough to send rockets into space. On the other hand, they can be suckered by a few wires stuck onto a forehead. Fascinating thing, the brain.

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