What would it be like to sleep on the moon?
It’s been 50 years since man first step foot on the moon. As one of mankind’s most historic events, the anniversary has been at very front of our minds and it got us wondering, what would it actually be like to sleep on the moon? NASA has outlined their plans to return to humans to the moon by 2024 and plan to have a sustainable presence there by 2028. That’s all well and good but if there’s nowhere nice and cosy to sleep when we get there, we won’t have the most pleasant of sleeping conditions to snuggle down in. So we’ve broken down the science, analysed the facts and gone above and beyond to work out how exactly we’d get some quality shut eye on a cold, grey floating rock over 380,000km away…
How did the Apollo 11 crew sleep on the moon?
The simple answer is they didn’t. After 4 days, 6 hours and 45 minutes of space travel, you’d imagine the crew of Apollo 11 to be flat out tired and longing for a well-earned rest as soon as they landed on the surface of the moon. But naturally, the anticipation and excitement of the 22 hour mission Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had ahead of them meant that sleeping was the last thing on their minds. The original plan was for Armstrong and Aldrin to sleep before they set foot on the surface. However, the eagerness to explore prevailed and the time of the EVA was moved forward. The overall adrenaline rush and excitement impacted the astronauts ability to sleep, the first reason why the Apollo 11 crew found it difficult to get any sleep. To put it in perspective, Armstrong’s heart rate peaked at 150 beats per minute when the Eagle lander touched down on the moon. The average heart rate when winding down for a deep sleep is 40-60 beats per minute.
The Lunar Module itself presented several other problems that made getting any sleep extremely difficult. Unsurprisingly, the LM was set up to get the crew to the moon safely. Comfort came second to functionality, which compromised the physical space and homeliness of the living quarters. The 22 hour mission was undoubtedly tiring for both Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, but the lack of physical space, comfortable beds and cosy duvets meant that getting to sleep was anything but easy. Add to this the bright sunlight streaming in through the windows, the uncomfortably cold temperatures and the noisy machines that kept the LM functioning, the sleeping conditions for the crew were far from ideal. Aldrin said that he managed to dose off only for a couple of hours, whilst Armstrong laid there, eyes closed but unable to drift off at all.
Making your bed
In the 50 years that have passed since Armstrong first set foot on the moon, science has come a long way. We’re now far more prepared to have the sustainable presence on the moon NASA is looking for by 2028. But hypothetically, if we had to travel the 384,400km to the moon right now and settle down for a long nap, what would that look like?
You’d be forgiven for thinking that getting to sleep on the moon with no noise whatsoever and no distractions to keep your awake. But we’ve already outlined the difficulties that the Apollo 11 crew had and we wouldn’t be drifting off to sleep any easier. The conditions on the moon are very different to here on Earth and, for starters, our bedrooms on the moon would need some serious modifications to cope with the very different sleeping conditions on the moon. In fact, everything from our bedrooms to our sheets and duvets would need to be adapted to be able to cope with the big changes in temperature, gravity levels and sun radiation.
Coping with the light
The lunar days are vastly different to the 24 hour cycles we are used to on Earth. The moon rotates fully on its axis every 27 Earth days meaning that daytime on the moon would last for roughly 13 days and then be followed by 13 days of pitch blackness.
To put it simply, the sunrise and sunset on the moon would not be aligned to our current body clocks, where we’re used to waking up when it’s light and going to bed when it’s dark outside. Whilst our circadian rhythm (the roughly 24 hour cycle that our bodies are used to) would adjust slightly to the difference in light, it would never be fully corrected meaning we’d inevitably be longing to sleep even though it is as bright as day outside. Our body clock and eating times would be all over the place…
There’s no atmosphere or cloud cover on the moon so blackout blinds would have to be the first thing installed in our moon bedrooms to be able to counteract the two weeks of blinding sunlight that would be streaming in through our windows. Either that or it would be time to bring back the eye mask as a common night-time accessory…
Coping with the temperature
The moon has massive temperature changes depending on whether the surface is exposed to sunlight or not. When it’s dark outside, temperatures on the moon can drop as low as -173oC which, even for the warmest of sleepers, would come as a bit of a shock to the system…
To put it into context, our average 7 tog duvets for summer are recommended for temperatures of 10-20 oC. We often swap these out in favour of a heavier, 13.5 tog duvet in winter which is designed for temperatures ranging from 8 to 15 oC. As you can imagine, neither would be very suitable for the sleeping in the freezing temperatures on the moon. Even the highest specification of sleeping bag, designed for temperatures as low as -30 oC and the go to choice for polar explorers wouldn’t be of much use.
In fact, according to our sleep scientists, we’d need a 281 tog duvet to keep us feeling warm and comfortable in the bitterly cold temperatures on the moon. We’d also opt for a naturally filled, wool duvet just to provide that extra temperature regulation. Our especially designed duvets would weigh an incredible 54kg here on Earth, but thankfully (due to the lower gravity levels on the moon) this would only weigh around 9kg on the surface of the moon.
Whilst this heavy duty duvet would help keep us warm, we’d still need an extra layer to trap the heat in and keep us insulated. Our scientists have recommended a layer of Mylar, sometimes more commonly referred to as the appropriately named space blanket. Mylar is a shiny, reflective material that is has excellent insulating properties, meaning that using it as a layer in our space duvet would help to keep us warm at night.
Coping with the radiation
Our extra layer of Mylar packed into the duvet wouldn’t just keep us warm and cosy; it would also protect us from the dangerous sun radiation that exists on the moon.
There’s no atmosphere to protection us from the cosmic radiation and solar flares which means radiation levels on the moon can reach 400 times the maximum safe dosage. Even our go to factor 50 sun cream wouldn’t be enough to keep us safe from that level of sun exposure. Fortunately, our shiny Mylar space blankets would deflect at least some of the dangerous sun rays.
After dealing with the light, temperature and radiation, getting down and comfortable for the night wouldn’t be too difficult. One thing for sure is that you would be able to take your own mattress along with you. With gravity on the moon being only around 16% of what it is on Earth, everything on the moon weights around just 1/6th of what it does on our home planet. That means your average king size mattress (weighing in at around 50kg on Earth) would weigh roughly the same as four bags of sugar on the moon! As always, we’d recommend a naturally filled mattress, even on the moon. The naturally wool fillings would help regulate your temperature (even more necessary for the moon’s drastically changing temperature).
When it comes to what to wear to bed, we’d recommend a thick set of ‘Gore-Tex’ pyjamas. The ‘Gore-Tex’ material is used as a layer in spacesuits as a ‘bladder layer’ to create an appropriate pressure for the body as well as holding in air for insulation.
Whilst we can’t promise that our advice or science would guarantee you a full 8 hours of high quality sleep on the moon, we certainly hope it’s got you thinking about this day 50 years ago! Science has truly come along way since 1969 and with the plans for humans to return to the moon in the very near future, we will sooner or later have to find a way to sleep through the testing climate of the moon – but hopefully we’d be able to take our herdysleep mattress along with us!