Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Circadian Simulation Software to Help Improve Astronauts and Shift-workers Sleep

Shifting work schedules can wreak havoc on a person’s ability to get enough sleep, resulting in poor performance on the job. Researchers have developed software that uses mathematical models that can help people who do shift or night work or who experience jet lag due to travel across time zones. The Circadian Performance Simulation Software (CPSS) uses complex mathematical formulas to predict how an individual will react to specific conditions. CPSS also allows users to interactively design a schedule, such as shifting sleep/wake to a different time, and predicts when they would be expected to perform well or poorly.

“The best methods that we know to help people operate at peak performance are first to ensure that they get adequate sleep, and second that their work schedules are designed to be aligned with the natural body clock,” said project leader Dr. Elizabeth Klerman, associate team leader for National Space Biomedical Research Institute’s (NSBRI) Human Factors and Performance Team.

An individual’s performance and alertness are generally regulated by several factors related to circadian rhythms and the sleep/wake cycle – length of time awake; the timing, intensity and wavelength of light; the amount of sleep the night before; and the body clock’s perception of time. As a result, most people are not able to operate at peak job performance in the late night or early morning hours.

The software will help astronauts maintain sleep health while on their missions but researchers are now working to individualize the model to determine what personal data are needed in order to provide recommendations for individuals. Klerman said the information needed could be as simple as age, or it could require more complicated data.

The software can easily be adapted for use in many occupations. “This program may be helpful for anyone who has to work the night shift, rotating shifts or extended shifts,” Klerman said. “It could also help international travelers effectively deal with jet lag.”

Workers outside the space industry that could benefit directly are medical personnel, security or police officers, firefighters, those working in transportation such as long-haul truckers, and power plant operators. Klerman suggested that everyone could benefit indirectly from the modeling. “Our lives, including our safety, are impacted by those people who have jobs requiring shift work or extremely long hours and who may be at increased risk of accidents and errors affecting themselves or others,” she said.

Learn more about this interesting software – and about shift work.

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