It might sound like something of a dream job: getting paid to stay in bed for three weeks straight. That's what a group of volunteers in France (dubbed "pillownauts") just finished doing for the European Space Agency — but it turns out the experience wasn't all that relaxing.
The study participants faced constant tests and a strict diet during their 21 days in beds tilted at 6 degrees below horizontal, and they weren't allowed to get up to go for a walk, a shower or even to use the toilet. Of course, they knew what they were getting into this time: this was the third and final 21-day session of lying in bed the volunteers went through this year.
Alongside tests and dietary restrictions, the volunteers had to face down the montonous boredom of spending days on end lying in bed (they were not allowed any visitors during their stay, and agreed to complete the testing no matter what happened in their personal lives), and some surprising physical challenges.
"The first days of each session were the worst," volunteer Marc Marenco said in an ESA release. "The body needs to adapt and I had migraines and backaches."
The reason for all this laying around? When astronauts return from space, they often require days to recuperate from the effects of living in weightlessness. Bedrest studies help scientists to recreate some of those effects so that they can examine how the body reacts and test methods for keeping future astronauts healthy.
In this three-week session, scientists tested a high-protein diet and an exercise routine that involved pushing the volunteers down onto vibrating plates while they did upside down squats — it wasn't all lying around reading.
And just like real astronauts, the volunteers had to spend a few days recuperating after leaving their beds before they could function normally.