Space psychology is an extremely significant area of study. Combining insights from all areas of the wider field (i.e., organizational, industrial, cognitive, psychiatry), it aims to optimise human behaviour and cognition in space.
In terms of its history, space psychology has received varying degrees of attention over time. Whilst its importance was acknowledged at the inception of NASA in 1958; in the early 1990s Dr Patricia Santy (a NASA flight surgeon and psychiatrist) illustrated the industry’s relative disregard for the area, claiming that the application of psychology to space was running 20-30 years behind most other areas of medicine. However, with ever-increasing pressure from academics (i.e., the Committee on Space Biology and Medicine), the establishment of continuously inhabited long-term research stations with multinational crews (i.e., with astronauts joining cosmonauts on Mir in 1993, and the first stay on the ISS in 2000), and a number of high-profile incidents, for example, the theorised termination of the Soviet Soyuz T14-Salyut 7 mission due to depression and the attempted murder by astronaunt Lisa Nowak, the relevance of psychological issues has become increasingly pertinent.
Research within the field is predominantly focused on ensuring selection/training programmes prepare astronauts for the psychological demands of space travel, developing effective inflight support strategies and helping individuals re-adapt following their return to Earth. Studies can be conducted both in-orbit, and in terrestrial simulators and space analogs (i.e., undersea vessels and polar outposts), which attempt to produce a degree of environmental realism, and have aided in identifying the consequences of the intrapsychic/interpersonal stressors that astronauts encounter, such as team conflict, impaired communication/”psychological closing”, social isolation, threat of disaster, high-stakes/demanding work, public scrutiny, microgravity, radiation exposure, immobility etc... Such research findings can then be applied to develop models of successful crew performance (i.e., in terms of gender composition, and types of goals) and produce effective intervention strategies, like enhancement medications and therapeutic software. For instance, optical computer recognition scanners have been developed by NASA to track astronaut facial expressions and assess potential changes in their mood, allowing for personalized intervention strategies (i.e. computerized CBT treatment). Notably, whilst much research focuses on studying/overcoming the negative aspects of space travel, a robust finding is the salutogenic “overview effect” (White, 1987), which refers to how viewing the Earth from space fosters a sense of appreciation/wonder, spirituality and unity amongst crew members. It is theorised by Yaden et al. (2016) that this emotional reaction is a result of the juxtaposition between the Earth’s features and the black backdrop of space, which emphasises the beauty, vitality, and fragility of Earth.
With forecasted missions focusing on the potential for interplanetary (and eventually interstellar) travel, we need to prepare accordingly. Not only will these missions be much more protracted in terms of their distance/duration (with the longest period spent in space currently standing at 14 months, and a round trip to Mars predicted to take 2.5 years), they will also be subject to the pressure of larger, multinational crews, with no hope of evacuation, lack of protection from the Earth’s magnetic field, and distance-related communication delays (averaging 25 minutes to Mars/500 minutes to Neptune and back). Additionally, astronauts will not be able to observe the Earth and derive the aforementioned associated benefits of this experience; coined the ‘Earth-out-of-view phenomenon’ (Kanas, 2015; Kanas & Manzey, 2008), which may magnify potential feelings of homesickness and isolation. As such, we need to develop effective strategies to counteract these novel stressors, with researchers considering the benefit of fitting protective outer shields to isolated parts of spaceships (where astronauts spend the majority of their time) in order to mitigate against the effect of radiation from cosmic rays, email messages that conclude with suggested responses in order to reduce communication times, and virtual reality systems/on-board telescopes to minimise feelings of separation from Earth.
Having discussed the historical development of space psychology, the scope of research conducted, and the forecasted future of the field, I hope I have impressed on you the significance of such an exciting area of study. Managing human behaviour in space is an interdisciplinary effort, and as the government monopoly on spaceflight diminishes (i.e., with the launch of commercial/private space ventures like SpaceX), and the number/complexity of missions increases, the importance of space psychology will become ever more apparent.
The next instalment of a fascinating blog series by ESA-sponsored Dr Stijn Thoolen who spent a year at the Concordia research station in Antarctica. Catch-up with his previous blogs at Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7
Dr Stijn Thoolen
Medical Research Doctor, Concordia Research Station, Antarctica
And so we keep delivering. Questionnaires about stress, physical and mental wellbeing, questionnaires about nutrition habits, stool samples, saliva samples, blood samples, taste tests with taste strips, smell tests with ‘Sniffin’ Sticks’. I make pictures of what I am eating twice a day, and our cook records our menu a whole year long. And, perhaps best of all, we all take a sachet every day, without even knowing if it contains a probiotic supplement, or nothing but just powder…
‘This reminds me of the dentist. And this of flower fields when I was young. And this one is industrial banana for sure!’ The ‘Sniffin’ Sticks’ induce vivid memories, but do our smell and taste change in this understimulating environment? And how does that relate to our eating habits? Credits: ESA/IPEV/PNRA–S. Thoolen
This time the tests are for another study called ICELAND (‘immune and microbiome changes in environments with limited antigen diversity’). ICELAND doesn’t focus on altitude, but instead uses the homogeneous environment of Concordia, another stressor to our body and mind, as a testbed for examining changes in immune health. Have you ever thought of the idea that, just like in Concordia or in space, a lack of new bacteria and viruses can actually deteriorate your immune system? Have you ever considered that we may be too hygienic? Just like losing muscles when we spend too much time on the couch, or losing skills if we don’t practice our brain, we can lose immune function when it is not stimulated, and according to the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ this may be one of the reasons for an increased incidence of asthma and skin inflammation in children in developed countries. In a similar way, prolonged isolation and confinement in the stressful and ‘clean’ environments of Antarctica or space is thought to increase susceptibility to infections and even allergies!
But the immune system is complex, and the many interactions it holds with other body systems such as our digestive system and our brain are just being discovered. For example, changes in nutrition can have an effect on the composition and health of our gut bacteria, which in recent years have been found to play an important role in the development of immune-related diseases such as allergies and cancer. Other studies in addition have found gut health to be related to mental wellbeing as well. So can we maintain a healthy brain and a healthy immune system if we maintain a healthy gut? We still have much to learn about ourselves, and ICELAND aims to investigate these interesting interactions. Hence those daily sachets: comparing the test outcomes between those of us who took gut bacteria-stimulating probiotics and those who didn’t can give us valuable information about its potential to counter these health risks!
The fascinating blog series chronicling a year in the life of ESA-sponsored Dr Stijn Thoolen at the Concordia research station in Antarctica continues. Catch-up with his previous blogs at Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6
Dr Stijn Thoolen
Medical Research Doctor, Concordia Research Station, Antarctica
Concordia, July 28, 2020
Sunlight: none, but the skies are turning colours again!
Windchill temperature: -83°C
Mood: some days a little tired, and on others, like the skies, full of colour
If you have read my previous posts, you have probably had enough of the beautiful-environment-and-working-together-drivel, and I am guessing you are now thinking something along the lines of: weren’t you supposed to do space research?
Good question, and it makes me realise that perhaps it is time for something more interesting: science!
But I am not sure if an ESA blog can go without any music, so before we continue here is a nice tune to walk you through:
Take, for example, the altitude. Here in Concordia we live at an altitude that is equivalent to about 3800 meters above sea level at the equator. As such, it's as if the air were to contain about 40% less oxygen for us to breath, and you definitely feel that when you arrive here by plane. Low energy, panting with the slightest exercise, waking up gasping for air multiple times a night, headache, dizziness, loss of appetite. Some really get sick from it, and in rare cases people have to be sent back to the coast due to life-threatening build-up of fluid in the lungs or brain! Yet, in 1978 Messner and Habeler reached the summit of Mount Everest at an altitude of 8848 meters without using any supplemental oxygen at all. How? They allowed time for their bodies to adapt.
At Concordia it usually takes a few days before you feel better. As your body senses a decrease in oxygen pressure it immediately tries to save your cells from getting damaged by sucking in more air (breathing) and pump more oxygen through the body (by increasing heart rate), and subsequently starts up a remarkable cascade of physiological processes that eventually leads to an increased production of red blood cells. As a result, the composition of our blood can drastically change over weeks, to help deliver sufficient oxygen to each of our cells. Pretty cool, don’t you think? Even though after eight months I still find myself hyperventilating up the stairs and having miserable nights every once in a while, at least it allows me to go to beautiful places like Concordia!
The adaptation however comes with a trade-off: if the need for oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood is too high (at higher altitudes, where there is less oxygen) and too many red blood cells are made, the blood can become so thick that it increases the risk of blood clotting, high blood pressure in the lungs, and even heart failure! Such health issues have been seen in some people living permanently at high altitude. So how healthy actually is a year of adaptation at Concordia? Knowing that similar low oxygen conditions may exist in future space habitats for technical, economical and safety reasons, and considering the simultaneous blood volume alterations usually seen as an effect of microgravity, answering that question is important to understand astronaut health and safety during future long-duration space missions.
The ANTARCV study (‘alterations in total red blood cell volume and plasma volume during a one-year confinement in Antarctica: effect of hypoxia’) is implemented this year to do so. Each month the crew comes to the ESA lab for a lucky treatment of vein punctures, and an awkward procedure of breathing a very small and safe dose of carbon monoxide through small, restrictive tubes. This way I can determine our blood volumes. Besides I analyze how thick our blood is, store blood samples for further analysis in Europe, and we all wear a watch one week a month to record our activity. That way we make sure that the changes we see in blood volumes are not just a result of changes in physical activity. You can understand the crew loves me for it…
ANTARCV on full speed. By administering carbon monoxide and determining the increase in its concentration in the blood, we can calculate how many red blood cells are circulating through the body/ANTARCV op volle snelheid. Door koolstofmonoxide toe te dienen en de concentratietoename te bepalen in het bloed, kunnen we berekenen hoeveel rode bloedcellen er door het lichaam circuleren. Credits: ESA/IPEV/PNRA–S. Thoolen
Still, all of us are participating in the research, and that is awesome! You see, doing human research here can be quite a challenge, not only because of language barriers, limited data transfer possibilities, or complex transportation logistics, but mostly so because the participation in these experiments is entirely voluntary. None of us works here primarily to serve as a test subject, and it is not that I can force anyone really… So to make sure I come home after a year with sufficient interesting data, I better make sure that everyone is happy with what we are doing here. For me perhaps a tricky mix between work and private life, but all for the good cause of science! After all, who doesn’t want to be part of the space program, bring benefit to future hivernauts and astronauts, and on top of that help to understand health challenges of our present-day society?
We welcome back ESA-sponsored Dr Stijn Thoolen, as he continues his tales of life at the Concordia research station in Antarctica, in the harsh environment of the world's southernmost continent. If you have missed them, do check out his earlier blogs, complete with wonderful photos - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5
Dr Stijn Thoolen
Medical Research Doctor, Concordia Research Station, Antarctica
Concordia, July 10, 2020
Windchill temperature: -84°C
Mood: still OK
The Antarctic winter solstice is special. As the Earth’s south pole is maximally tilted away from the Sun and the longest night falls over the southern hemisphere, people everywhere and since prehistoric times gather in tradition to celebrate the change of season and welcome the return of sunlight. But for a bunch of lost scientists and technicians on the Antarctic continent, that longest night lasts much longer. They won’t see any Sun for another one-and-a-half months. For them, mid-winter marks not just the gradual return of daylight, but much more so the midpoint of an extraordinary nine-month winterover adventure.
So it is an important moment. A time for celebration and for reflection (or perhaps just celebration…). To me it looks a little like Christmas, or New Year’s Eve, but with a twist perhaps (we are winteroverers, after all). Presents, dinners, parties, and (digital) mid-winter greetings from all the other Antarctic stations, kindly inviting us to come over to celebrate together. ‘The door is always open’, ‘generous parking space for motor vehicles and sledges’, ‘plenty of accommodation with ice sea vistas’, ‘bring your sleeping bag’, ‘COVID-19 free’. Anyway, you get the much-needed humour.
At first I wondered: being here only for about half a year now, how can such a completely new thing already hold such importance to people? No ritual, no guidelines, no one really knowing how to celebrate it, and yet the expectations are high in our crew, and the ideas plentiful. But looking back I have to admit: mid-winter is a beautiful tradition, even though never celebrated before…
While hints of daylight can be spotted on the horizon around noon, there won’t be any sun for another one-and-a-half months.
Winter can be harsh, without sunlight, far away from home, and with the same twelve people, for such a long time. And even in such an interesting and beautiful place, also I have recognized a few moments of disappointment. I guess, with all those different backgrounds and being the only Dutch around, it is not always easy to feel understood. Or perhaps it is just me who is getting a little less tolerant, in higher need for emotional support. And while that doesn’t make life always easy here, I recently read a beautiful sentence:
‘Do not worry that others don’t understand you. Rather worry that you don’t understand others.’
Can we still bring up that flexibility to try to understand each other, in a world where we are tempted to blame our problems on all but ourselves? On the ethical playground of Concordia, where walking away is out of the question and a lack of group cohesion can have direct consequences to our own wellbeing, I like to believe it is essential. And wasn’t this exactly what I was here for? To learn to become a better person?
With such thoughts in the back of my mind and realizing we still have another half to go, mid-winter then becomes the perfect excuse to work a little on ourselves. To do an extra effort for each other, give rather than ask, and just share some fun. To collaborate in a positive way to get closer as a group, building that tolerance for each other again, and making us all a little more willing to see the best in each other. And as such, music went back on loud again, and we went to work…
Brazilian night complete with exotic travel stories (you can imagine how popular these become here) and table soccer tournament, quiz night, cheesy fatty Alpine dinner, ‘kermesse’ games event including prizes to win, a spa (our hospital doctor decided that we could give the hospital a better use for the winter months), the first Antarctic championship of the traditional Italian game ‘Ruzzolone’ (Google it, and let your imagination do the rest), and, for once this year, an opportunity to actually go out for dinner (we eat in the same room all year long) in our ‘McDome’ fast-food restaurant (you may know it better as the astronomy shelter…). Ordered by radio and served upon arrival. Burgers, chips, milkshakes, and amazing reactions from the rest of the crew: everything a deprived winteroverer needs!
Mid-winter was great! Each of us participated to organize some of the festivities, and it kept us busy for sure. We celebrated five days full of the most ridiculous activities, and we were all exhausted afterwards. I guess that all these efforts may seem trivial back home, and the details may not look like much from the outside, but here I feel it is pretty important to us. These ridiculous activities bring variety, make us smile, and get us fueled up for another four-and-a-half month together. These will become the memories that we take home after a year on ice, and I think that makes mid-winter worth all the effort!
It makes me wonder how I will feel after a yearlong of practicing the much-needed tolerance and social consciousness here in Concordia: do we put the same amount of effort in each other at home?
ESA-sponsored Dr Stijn Thoolen, currently spending 12 months at the Concordia research station in Antarctica, presents the next blog in his series recounting tales from his time spent in the harsh environment of the world's southernmost continent. What an amazing experience - do take a look at his previous blogs (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4) to follow his great adventure!
Dr Stijn Thoolen
Medical Research Doctor, Concordia Research Station, Antarctica
Concordia, April 7, 2020
Sunlight: about 10 hours
Windchill temperature: -72°C
Mood: just fine
It is quite strange to be here, on the only continent not affected by the corona virus. To me, with everything that is currently going on in the rest of the world, it makes feel even more distant than we already are. Here, life just goes on, and although it has not been easy for some of us either, not being able to share in these experiences or provide support at home to those who could use it, messages are now suggesting that we are suddenly the ones better off!
And I have to admit indeed. Even though we are stuck here for nine months without any possibility for evacuation, with limited resources, a disrupted work/leisure balance, a threatening environment outside, both environmental and social monotony, and a group of relative strangers that come from all sorts of backgrounds (reading this I guess the situation for you may perhaps not be so different), at least we came here by choice…
So let me start with saying that I really hope you are doing well. Being isolated and confined comes with all kinds of stressors, deviations from the normal situation you could say, that ask our body and mind to adapt. Given the sudden disruption that the Corona outbreak has caused to all of you, I imagine that is certainly not easy.
And while our experiences are so different, and even though I feel probably as ignorant as you about how to deal with all those stressors (we have just been left to ourselves two months ago), perhaps this is a good time to share with you some of my own thoughts about isolation at Concordia.
A while ago I came across a story about the 1897-1899 Belgian Antarctic Expedition, which I found quite illustrative for what I have considered to make my winterover a happy one this year. At the time the Antarctic was still mostly unknown territory. The south pole was not yet reached, and the unforgiving environment made many expeditions end in disappointment. Aimed for exploration and for science, this one was no exception. When their ship the Belgica got stuck in the pack ice of the Bellingshausen Sea, the 19-member crew became the first in human history to winterover below the Antarctic circle, and as such you can imagine they were badly prepared to do so. It must have been pretty difficult, I imagine. Expedition doctor Frederick Cook described depression, irritability, headaches and sleeplessness among the crew, and basically provided a first recorded description of the so-called ‘winterover syndrome’.
“The curtain of blackness which has fallen over the outer world of icy desolation has also descended upon the inner world of our souls” – Frederick A. Cook, 1900
The strange and extreme Antarctic environment, just like in space, indeed has a strong capability to upset our system. Symptoms like fatigue, headaches, sleep disturbances, impaired cognition, negative emotions such as depression, anxiety and anger, and interpersonal conflicts have all been observed in polar dwellers. Such symptoms are usually more prevalent during the harsh winter months, when stressors are highest. Hence the ‘winterover syndrome’. For the winterover crew of 1898, Dr. Cook reasoned that what they needed that was the opposite of that harsh winter environment. Apparently with good effect, he prescribed them a diet of milk, fresh meat (poor penguins) and cranberry juice, as well as exercise, warmth and light. Interesting I think, not necessarily his particular ‘baking treatment’ of having the crew sit naked around an open fire, but the way it shows how dependent we are on our environment, and our limitations to adapt. In other words, to facilitate adaptation, we may want to create an environment that is more familiar to us.
For here in Concordia, or perhaps for something as different and unexpected as a Covid-19 lockdown, I like to think the idea is quite similar. I therefore try to maintain a daily rhythm full of activities that mimic a little bit the world we come from. I try to wake up and go to bed at regular times to promote sleep and maintain a functioning biological clock (without sunlight it relies even more on social clues), and while I restrict myself as much as possible from bright computer screens in the evening hours, an artificial daylight is standing by in my office for the darkest months. Elisa, our cook, is making us pretty balanced meals twice a day, and even though I have to admit I eat a lot here (altitude plus cold equals many burned calories), I take vitamin D in addition to make up for the lack of sunlight. About three times a week I visit the gym (it got a little too cold outside) to stimulate myself physically, and if not working, sleeping, eating, or exercising, I try to stimulate my senses by an impact from the magnificent world outside, playing games together, or reading a book. Socially, I try to stay connected with my friends and family at home, and with the crew we regularly have video connections with schools for outreach purposes, and even with each other’s families. We are social beings after all, and we may easily become lonely if we don’t feel part of the group (whichever group that may be…). Finally, to relieve some of the excess amount of stress here, I try to practice meditation each morning, and for the same reasons we have our sauna (yes, sauna) open on Sunday’s. Perhaps it really is a paradise…
We welcome another blog by ESA-sponsored Dr Stijn Thoolen, currently spending 12 months at the Concordia research station in Antarctica conducting experiments. What an amazing experience - do take a look at his previous blogs (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) to follow his great adventure to the world's southernmost continent.
Dr Stijn Thoolen
Medical Research Doctor, Concordia Research Station, Antarctica
Concordia, February 7, 2020
Sunlight: 24 hours (but not for long)
Windchill temperature: -45°C
Mood: a little roller coaster
At this moment I am just plain excited. Next to me the rest of the DC16 crew are having their own emotions. Our freshly inaugurated station leader Alberto, draped in the colours of our three national flags, came up with the idea to have our national anthems playing while the last Basler plane of the summer campaign leaves Dome C. So here I stand, hearing my own voice on maximum volume pronouncing a Dutch translation of too patriotic sentences from the station’s speakers, and with the Dutch ‘Wilhelmus’ screaming over the Antarctic plateau as an official start of our winter over. Haha, such an unrealistic scenario! And while those sounds are quickly overruled by the roaring engines of the plane, and with snow blowing in our faces, I can only smile. There goes our last connection to the rest of the earth, disappearing into the distant sky. Unbelievable!
I guess I have already spilled all of my emotions at this point. In the past few days, more and more planes have been taking away more and more of the beautiful people we enjoyed our summertime with, and the station has become more and more empty. Funny: they were already leaving, and I have the idea we just started… It has been an exciting idea on the one hand, but the closer we came to being left alone, the more and more confronting that got on the other. When two days earlier another plane left with sixteen more people, the goodbyes were harsh, with everyone in tears again. You know, those healthy ones. And when it was gone, those left on the ice slowly returned back to the station, all silent, all caught in their own thoughts. It had been an intense few summer months, and this was the weird moment of realization that it had come to an end, with a big unknown lying ahead. I guess the blend of feelings has been a repetition of those during the days before my departure to the Antarctic. Perhaps a little lighter this time.
InnovaSpace Co-Founder & Admin Director
Daniel E. Vigo, MD, PhD
Independent Researcher: Institute for Biomedical Research (Catholic University of Argentina and National Scientific and Technical Research Council) & InnovaSpace Advisory Board Member
Belgrano to Mars
The Antarctic continent is considered to be one of the most realistic analogues found on Earth of the situations of extreme isolation and confinement experienced in space. Since 2014, we have been conducting at the Belgrano II Argentine Antarctic Station the project "Chronobiology of Antarctic Isolation: the use of the Belgrano II Station as a model of biological desynchronization and spatial analogue", also known as “Belgrano to Mars”. The project aims to explore the impact of a year of isolation on different physiological, psychological and social variables. In particular, we are interested in studying how biological rhythms are affected by the lack of natural light during the four months of polar night typical of that latitude. The study of the chronobiological responses to extreme isolation increases our understanding of the physiological mechanisms underlying human biological rhythms, with applications in space exploration or other highly demanding professional settings, as well as in human health.
The Belgrano II Antarctic station consists of a series of scientific research facilities located approximately 1,300 km away from the South Pole at 34°S, 77°W. It is the most southerly Argentinian station and one of the three southernmost permanent stations on the planet. The temperature ranges from 5°C to 48°C below zero. One feature of this station is that, due to its latitude, it has four months of continuous sunlight, four months of twilight and four months of polar night. The station crew is composed of around 20 men. To generate a light-dark cycle during the summer, windows with blinds closed are used, in accordance with a normal sleep routine, while using eye covers during the night if necessary. Exposure to ultraviolet light is also stronger and sunglasses for external work are mandatory. Conversely, in the wintertime, the light-dark cycle depends entirely on artificial light. Schedules with well-defined times for meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) work and rest are paramount in Antarctic stations.
“Belgrano to Mars” is a collaborative project in which researchers Camila Tortello and Santiago Plano (UCA-CONICET and UNQ) participate in the analysis and interpretation of the information and Juan Manuel Cuiuli (Joint Antarctic Command) in the scientific coordination between Buenos Aires and Antarctica. Other members of the project are Marta Barbarito (Argentine Antarctic Institute), Diego Golombek and Patricia Agostino (UNQ and CONICET), Agustín Folgueira and Juan Manuel López (Central Military Hospital), and Guido Simonelli (University of Montreal). Field work during isolation is carried out by physicians from the wintering crews at the station and staff members that volunteer for the study. Antarctic scientific activity is coordinated by the National Antarctic Directorate (DNA), which together with the Joint Antarctic Command, provides the logistics of the bases.
This year, we have traveled to Antarctica to supervise the implementation of the Belgrano to Mars project in the field, to test measurement instruments and to train the crew in the use of the equipment and software. The trip demanded six weeks of navigation in the ARA Almirante Iríza icebreaker. In addition, we started working with the European Space Agency (ESA) in the operational test of the Telemedecine Tempus Pro equipment, under the framework of an ESA-CONAE-DNA agreement. The project, led by Dr. Víctor Demaría-Pesce, from ESA's European Astronaut Center, involves conducting operational simulations in a situation of extreme isolation and confinement, which will contribute to the design of a definitive prototype to be used by astronauts and medical teams during future space missions to the Moon and Mars. The equipment will be tested at Belgrano II (Dr. Bruno Cauda and Enf. Luis Almaraz) and Carlini (Dra. Melina D'Angelo and Enf. Gustavo Cruz) stations, through six simulations that will recreate medical scenarios similar to those encountered by astronauts in space.
Lessons to be learned from this kind of study
We have recently published in the journal Scientific Reports (from the Nature Group) data regarding changes in the sleep-wake cycle during a winter campaign at Belgrano II. We observed that during the polar night the subjects tended to go to bed one hour later and sleep one hour less. A possible explanation is that this is due to the lack of exposure to natural light, since bright light acts as a synchronizer of our biological rhythms. This loss of sleep was somewhat compensated by naps, which were longer during that time of year.
These results show us how biological rhythms can be desynchronized in periods of prolonged confinement, such as the ones we have had to go through during the quarantine periods instituted in different countries. Moreover, it highlights the importance of exposure to natural light in the morning and darkness during the night and maintaining fixed activity and rest routines to avoid the desynchronization of our biological rhythms. Other sleep hygiene measures include the limiting of daytime naps to 30 minutes, regularly exercising (it may be necessary to avoid working out before bedtime), having a light dinner, avoiding stimulants like caffeine and nicotine close to bedtime, and making sure that the sleep environment is dark, silent and with a pleasant temperature. The beneficial effects of having good sleep relate to an increase in alertness during the day, the prevention of anxiety or depression, and the improvement of our general health, which in turn will reduce the chances of becoming ill.
Author: Thaynara Vicente B Kurrle
Successful International Baccalaureate Diploma candidate; Ketedralskolan, Linköping, Sweden & now studying medicine
For as long as I can remember, I have always been flying around. My mother was a flight attendant, my father was an Air Force mechanic and we spent most of our lives living in an Air Force base. To board, deplane and wake up with the noise of helicopters and jets was part of the routine, which did not make it less special to me.
When I was 17 years-old, my family was transferred to Sweden and I had to decide what I wanted to do with my life. I was only sure about 2 things: I wanted to help and serve people, and I loved airplanes and the life in the air. How was I supposed to combine these two? I had no idea. Most people did not see a link between these two points, but I knew that I had to find a way, otherwise, I would never feel complete. If I would imagine myself permanently away from jets and airports or not in direct contact with people in need, a huge void would open in my chest; it just was not right, “either, or” was not an option to me.
In a Spring afternoon of 2018, I overheard some fighter pilots telling stories about accidents they had witnessed: a smashed jaw during the ejection after a period of temporal distortion, tunnelled vision, and a total blackout during the centrifuge training. Then, it hit me, those people were the link, they were the ones who connected those amazing machines to the human factor, they were the ones I wanted to help.
I started to research, and I still remember the first words that caught my eyes: “flight-surgeon”, “AsMA”, “Aerospace Medicine”. Upon reading the last mentioned, my heart dropped. I had found it. I had found an entire field and community of people as curious as me and that shared the same passions. And at the end of that year I was given the chance to get in touch with it more directly.
To graduate the International Baccalaureate (a different kind of high school), every student must carry out an independent research about a topic they would be interested in studying in university, our first research paper. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, I wanted to understand the symptoms and episodes I had heard about countless times, I wanted to understand what that so feared G. was. I read all the books about aerospace medicine fundamentals and flight physiology I could find, I started to talk to every single crew member and engineer I could reach, but the understanding of the symptoms through medical lenses was still missing. Another important thing that was missing was a supervisor, who would be willing to help me to start the research. Basically, the Science Department of my school did not understand what I was going for, how I was going to do it and no teacher was exactly thrilled with the idea of supervising a student they had no idea of how to help. It was even hard to decide whether to classify it as a Biology or Physics project!
It was in the spring of 2019 that Maria, who was not even my teacher, heard about the project and was willing to supervise me, but I would have to find help from doctors outside; as she put it “You have chosen a very, very specific topic, so you need a very specific knowledge because I can’t tell you how to start”. And here we go again on another quest for a supervisor. And this quest is what made me fall completely in love with the scientific community.
Doctors who had never met me sent me PDFs and articles and two of them (thank you so much, Dr Suto and Dr Lia) sent me the contact of Dr Thais Russomano, who was the fairy godmother of my Extended Essay. She taught me how to structure and organise a research based on the study of the literature, how to select it, how to understand the state of the art of that field. It was more challenging than I was expecting but it made all the difference. Thanks to all her feedbacks and articles I was finally able to understand where I was and how far I would be able to go (unfortunately not as far as I wanted due to school limitations). But now I knew what I was doing. I wanted to understand the effects of the G-acceleration on the human cardiac system and how the Anti-G Straining Manoeuvre diminished its effects. All I needed for the school to approve it was: at least 7 volunteer pilots with enough availability to measure their blood pressure while doing loops 2 or 3 times for a random girl’s school project, piece of cake right?
To my heart-stopping surprise I got all of them, and they were all mostly glad to help me and to send me papers, videos, and pictures from their own centrifuge trainings (thank you so much Major Forneas and Colonel Leite). Nevertheless, to my despair the data collected contradicted my primary hypothesis! Great!
That is when my dear friend Jonas comes into scene. He worked at SAAB, the company which was developing the new Brazilian Grippen, state-of-the-art fighter jet, and offered to arrange me an interview with a test-pilot. It was by far, one of the greatest days of my life!
While we were waiting for Andreas to finish his debriefing, Jonas took me on a tour around the Flight Test Centre. I had always wanted to see the Grippen; only one was ready so far, it had flown only once and only authorised personal could see or get close to it, or at least I had been told. Jonas opened the hangar’s door and there it was! The mysterious Grippen and I was one of the few civils, who had nothing to do with the project whatsoever, who had been able not only to see it but to climb up to its cockpit! Right there, I knew I had made the right choice.
Andreas, the test-pilot, still wearing his anti-G suit, spent a long time answering my endless questions, and by the time I finished the interview I understood where I had gone wrong and the kind of data that I needed to prove my new hypothesis right! And again, I was mesmerised by how the scientific community mobilised itself to help an enthusiast like me, who was still not even part of it.
Autores: Beatriz Helena Ramos Reis*, Bruno Veiga Fontes de Carvalho*, Prof Jonas Lírio Gurgel**, Prof Flávia Porto*
*Instituto de Educação Física e Desportos, Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (UERJ)
A pandemia de COVID-19 gerou a necessidade de utilizar medidas de distanciamento social para que haja a redução da disseminação do novo coronavírus. Contudo, têm-se percebido prejuízos na saúde física e mental dos indivíduos, porque a mudança brusca na rotina resultou em um novo estilo de vida das pessoas, que passaram a viver em confinamento. Aumento de preocupações, ansiedade, tristeza prolongada e sedentarismo são algumas das consequências ocasionadas ou agravadas pelo isolamento.
Como forma de minorar esses efeitos, o exercício físico continua sendo reconhecido como uma estratégia não-medicamentosa eficaz que auxilia na prevenção e no tratamento de doenças físicas, metabólicas e/ou psicológicas. Entretanto, a suspensão e a limitação do uso de estabelecimentos, como academias de ginástica e clubes esportivos, para evitar aglomeração, levaram muitas pessoas a praticar atividades físicas regulares em casa.
Nesse contexto, percebeu-se um fenômeno interessante na internet, que foi o aumento da busca por informações online. O Google Trends, por exemplo, é um recurso que expõe os termos mais pesquisados em diferentes lugares do mundo e revela sua popularidade em uma escala de 0 a 100. Nele, foi possível identificar o aumento da busca por informações relacionadas às consequências e necessidades geradas pela pandemia. Nesse contexto, vimos que, no Brasil, as buscas pelo termo “exercício físico em casa”, em Português, antes de março de 2020, teve popularidade baixa (oscilando na escala entre 0% e 25% de procura via Google). Após esse mês, quando se iniciou o distanciamento social no país, a busca pelo termo oscilou, aproximadamente, entre 40% e 100% até o momento atual. Ao analisar o termo “physical exercise at home”, em Inglês, notou-se que, em janeiro de 2020, as buscas estavam entre 0% e 25%. De fevereiro até maio deste ano, as buscas estiveram entre 25% e 100%, diminuindo em junho, momento em que vários países afrouxaram as regras de isolamento. Ao observar esses dados, notamos um aumento considerável na popularidade dos termos durante esse período, demonstrando um maior interesse de internautas sobre o assunto. Essas oscilações parecem ter relação com o fechamento e abertura de comércio e demais atividades no mundo.
Interessante também mencionar a necessidade de adaptar os exercícios a ser realizados em casa. Dessa forma, percebeu-se que o interesse por equipamentos esportivos para realizar exercícios físicos em casa também aumentou, sendo demonstrado nas buscas no Google. A pesquisa pelo termo “equipamentos para atividade física”, nos dois primeiros meses desse ano, estava próxima a zero em níveis de interesse; já em março, o interesse aumentou bastante, chegando a atingir 100 no mês de abril. Em todo mundo, o termo “equipment for physical activity”, pesquisado na língua inglesa, mostrou pico de interesse (100 na escala) no mês de fevereiro e menor interesse próximo ao início de junho (0 na escala). Como a pandemia ainda não está controlada, inclusive com previsão de novas ondas de contágios e mortes, é bem provável que os hábitos das pessoas mudem, realmente, como forma de adaptação à nova realidade.
Apesar da reconhecida resiliência das pessoas, não se pode negar que os prejuízos psicológicos são evidentes e, muitas vezes, é até difícil entender esses sentimentos e lidar com a magnitude que podem atingir. Pensando nisso, repetimos o processo de investigação no Google Trends e verificamos que o termo “depressão na quarentena” não apresentava interesse da população Brasileira entre janeiro e início de março (0 na escala) – esse desinteresse deve-se, provavelmente, ao fato de que ainda não existia o confinamento social no Brasil. Porém, a partir de março, a busca pelo termo cresceu muito, atingindo o pico de pesquisa (100 na escala) no início do mês de maio. Quando pesquisado, em Inglês, o termo “quarentine depression” também não houve interesse pela população mundial entre os meses de janeiro até o início de março. A partir daí, iniciou-se um aumento exponencial pela procura do termo, atingindo seu pico no mês de abril e, após, uma sequente diminuição até o mês de junho.
Do espaço ao COVID-19: o que podemos aprender? Astronautas devem saber lidar com o confinamento e, apesar de serem submetidos a diversos tipos de treinamento para cumprir de forma adequada as missões espaciais, efeitos psicológicos provocados pelo confinamento são relatados na literatura. No caso da COVID-19, não houve preparo para essa nova realidade. Estamos todos tentando desenvolver mecanismos para desenvolver resiliência e melhor lidarmos com a pandemia e todos os acontecimentos relacionados à ela. A internet torna-se uma aliada, uma companhia provedora de informações e possibilidades de compras para as pessoas. O desafio agora é lidar com essa quantidade de informações, separando-as em relação à veracidade e à aplicabilidade.