Astronauts are so smart. (How smart are they?!)

Did you watch the SpaceX launch? I was mesmerized. It was the first time in nine years that American astronauts went to space from American soil. It’s the first time ever that astronauts were blasted into space in a vehicle made by a private company rather than a national government.

It was amazing to see helplessly cool astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley strapped into place, studying the sophisticated displays in front of them and — at one point — batting around a little toy that indicated they had reached zero gravity. One astronaut kept his feet strapped in place, while the other let his feet float freely.

They will be in the spacecraft for about 19 hours before docking with the International Space Station (ISS). Can you imagine everything they have to do during those hours? There’s a ton to keep track of, much less do. They’re conducting flight tests, manning the controls in a series of maneuvers, communicating with ISS crew and the ground crew, making sure all of the gauges are where they should be, and a bunch of other stuff I don’t understand.

Do you know what else they will do during those 19 hours? They will spend eight of them sleeping. They have a thousand things to do, yet they will sleep for eight hours.

Astronauts are so smart. (How smart are they?!) They are so smart, they know how important sleep is — how it leads to effective performance during their awake hours. What difference can adequent sleep make for our minds?

  • improvements in clear thinking, information retention, decision making, problem solving, attention, alertness and engagement, executive function (working memory, flexible thinking, self control, focus), creative and innovative thinking, and reasoning
  • less stress
  • steadier emotions

Astronauts know this. They’ve gone into this flight well rested, and they will continue to practice that healthy habit throughout the mission. (Their beds in the ISS are ready for them!)

How many times have we said something like this? I can’t go to bed yet; I have so much to do! How often have we felt justified in burning the midnight oil just to reach a deadline? We would do well to remember that our minds and bodies work better when we get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Basic. Vital.

The vast majority of us are never going to be brilliant, amazing astronauts, but we can be smart like them in this respect. We can make our minds healthier.

Live thoughtfully, and sleep tight!

See “Surprising Reasons to Get More Sleep” for more information on how sleep benefits our minds and bodies.

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