|An Interview with:|
George C. Brainard, Ph.D.
Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University
NSBRI Human Factors and Performance Team
George Brainard is a neuroscientist working with the National Space Biomedical Research Institute. He's testing how light affects astronauts working and sleeping in space.
George Brainard: An astronaut here on Earth experiences a 24-hour day/night cycle just like you and I. Now when they're on the space station, they're circling the planet every 90 minutes. So they've gone from a 24-hour day to a 90-minute day.
Your circadian rhythm is what tells you when it's time to sleep and wake up. It's tied to light – in particular, the blue-indigo region of the spectrum, according to Brainard.
George Brainard: And that's the opportunity that we're working on. Can you use blue-enriched white-appearing light and get a strong circadian stimulus for the astronauts, and will this in fact help their sleep?
Dr. Brainard is also testing to see if a pure form of blue light will boost the waking performance of astronauts.
George Brainard: So for example, if an astronaut is wakened up out of sleep and there has to be a spacewalk for emergency purposes, you want that astronaut at their peak alertness.
Blue light's earthly applications might include combating the effects of jet lag and shift work.