What is microsleep? You may not have heard the term, but most people experience microsleep episodes. People usually call it zoning out or being on autopilot. The dangerous reality is that when this happens, parts of our brains are asleep!
Microsleep can happen at any time of day and occurs more often in those that are already sleep-deprived. However, research shows that even a single night of poor sleep can result in microsleep episodes. Studies also show that performing a repetitive or boring task like long-distance driving or operating heavy machinery can trigger multiple microsleep episodes lasting up to 30 seconds, raising the risk for an accident due to reduced reaction times. According to the Better Sleep Council:
“During microsleep, scientists have been able to measure localized areas of the brain switching to slow-wave, sleep-like activity. The thalamus, in particular, becomes less active. Since the thalamus is responsible for interpreting incoming sensory signals, your reaction time and ability to pay attention suffers.”
What to Do If You Experience Microsleep
If you experience microsleep, it’s important to act. Fatigue makes your brain shut down for short periods of time to compensate for the lack of sleep. Take a look at your sleep hygiene habits. Staying on a schedule and limiting screen time before bed can help. If you’re still feeling fatigued after a full night’s sleep, you may be one of the 70 million Americans who have a sleep disorder. Around 95 percent of sleep disorders remain undiagnosed and untreated, raising the risk for health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, depression, weight gain, and more. A professional sleep study can help get to the root of the problem.
How to Prevent Microsleep
- Get a full 8 hours of sleep each night.
- Take a 20-30 minute power nap.
- Take regular breaks each day.
- Turn up the music to lift your mood.
- Have some caffeine, but not too late in the day.