spaceSpace and Physics

Late Sleepers Might Be Better Suited To Mars Missions


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer

919 Late Sleepers Might Be Better Suited To Mars Missions
"Think I'll just... zzzzzzzzzz." NASA

A study of the natural circadian rhythm, or daily cycle, of animals on Earth has yielded an interesting, separate conclusion, namely about how humans might cope with the shorter days on Mars.

According to the researchers, and a piece in The Telegraph, the issue comes down to the Martian day being 37 minutes longer than Earth’s day. For this reason, they say that people who sleep longer may be more suited to life on the Red Planet than early risers. The paper is published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, although it should be noted the link to Mars was made separately.


In a statement, Professor Andrew Loudon from the University of Manchester, one of the coauthors on the paper, said: “The rotation speed of Mars may be within the limits of some people’s internal clock, but people with short running clocks, such as extreme morning types, are likely to face serious intractable long-term problems, and would perhaps be excluded from any plans NASA has to send humans to Mars.”

He continued: “If we ever do get to the Red Planet, I suspect we will be faced with body clock problems; those people with abnormally slow body clocks would be best suited to living there.”

An interesting “experiment” in 2012 may provide a counter-argument, though. Prior to the landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars, scientists at NASA operated on Mars time, to ensure that the mission passed without a hitch. They did this for three months, with seemingly no ill effects.

Can life on Earth explain future life on Mars? Tristan3D/Shutterstock


While this latest paper doesn’t discuss Mars, it does highlight the importance of having a body clock that is in sync with the rotation of our own planet. In the study, an international team of scientists studied animals where a variation in a single gene can change the circadian cycle from 24 to 20 hours.

The animals were monitored in outdoor pens for 14 months, and it was found that mice with a shorter clock were gradually phased out over several generations, due to reduced survival and reproduction rates. By the end of the study, populations were dominated by animals with 24-hour circadian clocks.

For this reason, the leap has been made to assume the same will be true on Mars, with those people with a slightly longer circadian clock being more suited to life on the Red Planet.

Popular Science discussed how it’s not only early risers that might be left behind on missions to Mars. People with extreme dietary restrictions, such as vegans and those who are gluten-intolerant, might also miss out, as it’s hard to design a balanced diet for people in space with such restrictions on what they can eat, and what supplies are available.


“That would cost a lot of extra money,” NASA food scientist Vicky Kloeris told Popular Science. “So that would be a decision that NASA would have to make.”

So there you have it. If you’re a meat-eater who enjoys a lie-in, you could be perfect to take the next giant leap for mankind. Or something.


spaceSpace and Physics
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  • Mars,

  • earth,

  • sleep,

  • circadian clock,

  • 37 minutes