Ask the Astronaut: After your return to Earth did you have trouble sleeping?

Greg Johnson, asleep during the STS-125 mission. (NASA)

Q: After your return to Earth did you have trouble sleeping? (Tom Pogue, Waldron, Arkansas)

On my first night back on Earth after 18 days in orbit (my STS-80 Columbia mission), I slept fitfully. It was strange lying on a mattress again, and drifting off to sleep, I was sure that if I lost the grip on my pillow, I’d float up to the ceiling and stay there! That was one strange and restless night—I’d never squeezed a pillow so hard! But even this unsettled sleep was welcome, because by bedtime it had been close to 24 hours since I had woken up in orbit that morning on Columbia.

Being tired did help me get to sleep on my first night back, but I still had to deal with a kind of jet lag those first few days back, as I adjusted from shuttle time to normal day and night back on Earth in Houston.

Returning NASA space station crews face a westward time shift of about 5 or 6 hours, depending on the season, as they transition from Coordinated Universal Time in space to the local time at their home back in Houston. After landing, their bedtime is 5-6 hours later than it had been in orbit. Adjusting to a time shift that large takes the better part of a week, helped along by the fatigue caused by once more experiencing Earth gravity 24 hours a day.

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About Tom Jones

Former astronaut Tom Jones is a scientist, author, and pilot. In more than eleven years with NASA, Tom flew on four space shuttle missions to Earth orbit. On his last flight, he led three spacewalks to install the centerpiece of the International Space Station, the American Destiny laboratory. He has spent 53 days working and living in space. He is is currently writing “Space Shuttle Voices,” recording astronaut experiences during the space shuttle’s 30-year career. See his full bio here.

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