Have you ever wondered how astronauts can endure months living inside a confined spaceship as they undergo their space missions? Life in a spaceship means forgoing regular sunlight exposure, social events, and outdoor activities. Sound familiar? With the current COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are living a less intense version of space life as we live in quarantine and self-isolation. As schools, shops, and businesses remain closed, we are stripped of the external cues that would normally guide our daily routines. For instance, we no longer need to wake up at a specific time to go to school or attend after-work social gatherings with our colleagues. As a result, we may find ourselves struggling to keep up a productive routine because we lack the social timestamps that help us structure our days. The lack of routine influences our circadian rhythms which in turn affects our abilities to get quality sleep at night.

While many of us are unaware of it, our daily routines are strongly influenced by the people around us. The way we engage in social interactions on a daily basis is also known as our social rhythms. Social rhythms influence our circadian rhythms, as the social organizations we partake in often dictate our sleep-wake cycles. Abnormal circadian rhythms are associated with sleep disorders, and abnormal social rhythms are associated with mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder and depression. Therefore, being mindful of how our circadian and social rhythms are affected by quarantine is key to managing our overall health and wellbeing during this time.

To help us combat disrupted rhythms, we can learn from the astronauts who spend months in “quarantine” in space, and we can utilize tools such as the Owaves app to help us set healthy routines. In an episode of the podcast The Savvy Psychologist titled “Want to Sleep During Quarantine? Do It Like An Astronaut!”, psychologist Dr. Jade Wu shares three tips on how to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm and how to do it successfully like an astronaut!

1. Follow a Schedule (Especially During Quarantine!)

Dr. Wu’s first tip is to keep a consistent routine. One experiment studied how confinement experienced by astronauts affected their mental and physical health. Participants were confined in an aircraft-like environment for 520 days – the number of days it would take to travel to Mars and back. Scientists discovered that participants’ sleep schedules were disrupted no matter how fit or healthy they were before. They attributed this sleep disturbance to the lack of environmental and social cues in space that would normally guide our day-to-day behavior on Earth. For instance, as an astronaut, you wouldn’t need to wake up at a specific time to drop your kids off at school or go to work. Because social cues are diminished during quarantine, we are responsible for simulating these very cues on our own by incorporating them into our daily schedules. 

“Without our external routines, we’re left to our own devices to keep our schedules. Without a consistent social rhythm, our biological rhythms suffer too – without a strong biological rhythm, we are more prone to insomnia, sleep deprivation, and fatigue.”

Dr. Jade Wu, The Savvy Psychologist

While it is tempting to lie in bed or walk around your house in your PJs all day, Dr. Wu recommends sticking as close to our regular routines as possible. This means continuing habits that help maintain our circadian rhythms, such as waking up and sleeping at the same time each day or eating at consistent times. Planning your day in advance will allow you to be more productive and carry out healthy habits more successfully. With the Owaves app, you can plan your day based on activities that optimize your mental and physical health. For instance, the app reminds you to dedicate time to important self-care activities that we may often forget to plan into our days, such as bonding with your loved ones, exercising, and relaxing. Establishing a schedule that optimizes health and productivity can be difficult – which is why having a community that shares these similar goals can be incredibly valuable. In an upcoming social launch of the app, we will be introducing #MyMoai, a feature that will allow you to see other people’s day plans and gain inspiration from their schedules when establishing your own.

A phone screen displays the My Moai Feed. The My Moai feed shows a person's friends and what activities they are currently up to.
The upcoming new feature for Owaves: #MyMoai
A female doing exercise indoors.
Once you have a schedule, make sure you make time for exercise.

2. Stay Active

Dr. Wu mentions how participants in the space experiment unsurprisingly become more sedentary in the spaceship simulation. Similar to the participants, we may be less active during quarantine because we no longer need to walk or travel to places, let alone leave the house. Consequently, we may feel like we are in a bit of a slump and be less motivated to keep up our fitness routines. However, staying active is crucial for our health because it keeps us physically strong and releases hormones that boost our mental health.

“It may seem counterintuitive, but less physical activity actually leads to more fatigue as well as worse sleep. So don’t let confinement cramp your physical activity style!”

Dr. Jade Wu, The Savvy Psychologist

One fun way to stay active during quarantine is to schedule a workout video call with a friend. That way, you and your friend can hold each other accountable whenever one of you feels unmotivated. Plus, having a workout buddy can make the whole process more enjoyable. With the new #MyMoai feature, you can coordinate virtual workout routines with your friend by seeing each other’s day plans and determining when the best time is for both of you to work out.

3. Be Exposed to Light at the Right Times     

Light exposure is one of the most important cues that our bodies use to set our circadian rhythms. In German, the word zeitgeber, which directly translates to “timegiver,” describes the importance of environmental cues in regulating our body clocks. Light helps dictate our sleep-wake cycles as we tend to be awake during the day and asleep during the night. Like astronauts in space, we no longer experience the same amounts of daylight as we would pre-quarantine. Because we are now staying indoors, we may be less exposed to the sunlight that signals our bodies to stay awake. One way to gain more light exposure during the day is to go outside for a walk or open our window blinds whenever we wake up in the mornings.

On the flip side, we may be exposed to excessive artificial light at night from our phones and screens, which suppresses melatonin production and disrupts our abilities to fall asleep. We can reduce our screen intake at night by planning our screen time for the day and other more relaxation-related activities for the night. Using the Owaves app, you can preplan your day and dedicate day time to any work or entertainment that requires your phone or laptop, and night time to relaxation routines such as taking a bath, reading, or meditating.

Now, Put These Tips into Practice During Quarantine!

Now that you’ve learned the secrets of maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm as an astronaut, why not put them to use by incorporating these tips into your own daily routine? Test out our beta version of the Owaves app today by downloading it here – make your quarantine life the best life possible!