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No beauty sleep for the weary: Women come out ahead in sleep deprivation marathon

Female participants in a 17-day-long space training experiment showed far better endurance than men in a sleep deprivation test
SIRIUS participants SIRIUS Project
SIRIUS participants
© SIRIUS Project

MOSCOW, November 24. /TASS/. Female participants in a 17-day-long space training experiment dubbed SIRIUS (Scientific International Research In Unique Terrestrial Station), which ended on Friday, showed far better endurance than men in a sleep deprivation test. Locked inside the simulator of a hypothetical spacecraft, the crew had to stay awake and keep working for 38 hours in a row, laboratory chief Vadim Gushchin, of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medical and Biological Problems where the experiment was held, told TASS in an interview.

"At the end of the 38-hour-long working shift the participants were asked to undergo cognitive abilities and mathematics tests. For instance, each of those tested was given a four-digit number, say 2083, and then told to subtract 13 from it and each succeeding sum total, if someone made a mistake, they had to start the math exercise from square one all over again. The two best results came from two young women, while one male contestant came in third," Gushchin noted.

The 38-hour-long sleep deprivation marathon ended on Wednesday 22, at 21:00 Moscow time.

"The crew coped with the program. There were delays, though. Some participants were a little bit slow in coping with operator tasks due to fatigue. The negative effects were the strongest not during night hours, but the next day, during the last hours of the sleep deprivation experiment," Gushchin said.

About the conditions inside the spacecraft simulator he said that some crewmembers complained they could not sleep tight in general.

"I believe that we will have to make the sleeping places larger. Some told us they could not sleep well enough. An aching back in the morning was the complaint we heard most often. Beds turned out to be either too narrow or too short," Gushchin noted.

By and large the crew was congenial and manifested a powerful synergy of both sexes’ strengths - "men’s stamina and high professionalism and women’s flexibility, sensitivity and ability to unite and organize," he said.

"The crew members had never met before the preparations for the experiment began. Amazingly, they were quick to make friends and devise certain rituals before being locked inside. For instance, they made it a habit to watch a film together in the evening and then to have a discussion. They did so on their own, without any advice or commands. They gladly agreed to spend time together. The whole crew was unanimous about that. In this way they took their time together for mutual benefit," Gushchin said.

SIRIUS project

The SIRIUS experiment began at the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences on November 7. Under this scenario, a hypothetical spacecraft made a voyage to the Moon, where the crew carried out several dozen experiments and drove a rover on the lunar surface. There was no access to the Internet. The exchange of messages with Mission Control occurred with a five-minute delay.

The crew consisted of Mark Serov, of the space rocket corporation Energia, cosmonaut Anna Kikina, from the Russian Cosmonauts Training Center, Viktor Fetter, of Airbus, as well as three employees of the Medical and Biological Problems Institute - Ilya Rukavishnikov (the crew’s doctor), Yelena Luchitskaya and Natalya Lysova. The crew were to stage more than 60 various experiments, catch a satellite with a remote-controlled manipulator arm and drive a rover on the Moon’s surface.

SIRIUS was the first in a series of joint Russian-US space crew isolation experiments, which will last until 2021. This was the shortest of the scheduled tests. Others will last much longer ranging from four months to one year.