Microsleep is an involuntary, transient and brief sleep episode that usually lasts between 1 to 15 seconds. These microsleep episodes often occur when a person tries to fight sleep to stay awake after an extreme bout of sleepiness. During a microsleep episode, the brain essentially controls our conscious state causing a switch from wakefulness to sleep, manifesting as a complete failure to respond accompanied by slow eyelid closure and head pounding. Researchers have found that microsleep episodes cause dramatic changes in brain activity. Often, however, these changes are limited to specific areas or structures and do not spread throughout the brain. For example, studies have shown that the thalamus, an area of the brain responsible for interpreting incoming sensory signals, is significantly impaired and less active during microsleep. In other words, certain parts of the brain may remain alert while other areas – especially those involved in interpreting various signals – may temporarily shut down. Scientists refer to this process as localized sleep.
What Causes Microsleep When Driving?
Sleep deprivation is a risk factor for microsleep. This can happen if you suffer from insomnia, work night shifts, or don’t get enough quality sleep for other reasons. You may also experience microsleep if you have a sleep disorder:
- With obstructive sleep apnea, blockages in the upper airway interfere with breathing during sleep. As a result, your brain does not receive enough oxygen during sleep, which can trigger daytime sleepiness.
- Narcolepsy causes extreme daytime sleepiness and intermittent, uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep.
- Periodic limb movement disorder
- Circadian pattern disruption
- The exact cause of microsleep is not fully understood, but it is believed to occur when part of the brain falls asleep while the rest of the brain remains awake.
Some other factors that can trigger microsleep while driving include:
People who don’t get enough sleep over a long period of time tend to be more prone to microsleep while driving.
Long drives that are monotonous and boring can make one more susceptible to microsleep.
Consumption of alcohol or drugs
Alcohol and some drugs can reduce concentration and trigger microsleep.
Some health conditions, such as sleeping sickness or depression, can affect sleep quality and trigger microsleeps.
To prevent microsleep while driving, it is important to ensure that you get enough sleep, rest before driving, and maintain concentration while driving.
In a 2011 study, researchers kept lab rats awake for extended periods of time. They inserted probes into neurons affecting their motor cortex while using an electroencephalogram (EEG) to record their brain’s electrical activity.
Although the EEG results showed that the sleep-deprived mice were fully awake, the probes revealed localized areas of sleep. These findings led the researchers to believe that humans may experience brief episodes of localized sleep in the brain while appearing awake.
What are the Dangers of Microsleep While Driving
If you are at home, microsleep may cause irritation, but it is not dangerous. In other situations, microsleep can pose a threat to yourself and others. Driving while experiencing microsleep is a common hazard.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that up to 6,000 fatal crashes each year may be related to drowsy drivers. In one survey, 4% of drivers said they fell asleep while driving at least once in the past 30 days.
Microsleep is especially dangerous for drivers because of the short time it takes to make serious mistakes behind the wheel. If you fall asleep for 3 seconds while traveling at 60 miles per hour, you can travel 300 feet in the wrong direction. This can send you off the road or into the opposite lane of traffic.
Microsleep while driving can lead to some very dangerous risks, such as:
Microsleep can make us drowsy and less focused while driving, which can lead to car accidents.
Car accidents caused by microsleep can cause damage to property and even result in material loss.
Injury to passengers or other drivers
Car accidents caused by microsleep can result in injuries to passengers or other motorists involved in the accident.
In severe cases, car accidents caused by microsleep can result in death.
Therefore, it is very important to make sure we are not drowsy while driving and ensure we get enough sleep before driving. If you feel very tired, it is better to rest before continuing your journey.
How to overcome microsleep while driving
Short-term fixes for sleepiness can reduce microsleep. Try these tips when you feel sleepy:
- Change what you’re doing. It only takes about half an hour for monotony to affect your alertness. Breaks to get up and move around are helpful.
- Do a power nap. Sometimes you just can’t overcome your sleepiness. Sleeping for 20 minutes or so can help. Set an alarm if you have trouble getting up.
- Talk to someone. Conversation wakes up the brain cells. Also, talking speeds up breathing and pumps extra oxygen into the bloodstream.
- Drink caffeine. Allow about 30 minutes for it to sink in. And try not to consume it too close to bedtime.
For long-term improvement, improve your sleeping habits. Plan to spend 8 hours in bed, which usually results in 7 hours of sleep. That’s enough sleep for most adults. Make sure to exercise during the day. Limit screen use close to bedtime. Avoid heavy meals, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol in the hours before bedtime.
A 2012 study by the Center for Accident Research and Road Safety in Australia found that in drowsy drivers, pulling over at the first sign of drowsiness makes a big difference. Tired drivers (operating a computer-simulated car, of course) who didn’t pull over were 15 times more likely to have an accident.
In a report by Queensland University of Technology, the study’s lead researcher, Chris Watling, said, “The most important thing is that if you see signs of drowsiness, you should stop immediately. Trying to keep going is not a good idea.”
Several products are designed to shock drivers back to consciousness, but so far there are only a few on the market, such as Driver Fatigue from TransTRACK which will monitor the driver through a camera and provide a buzzer voice when the driver is sleepy. In addition, Driver Fatigue can identify and monitor drivers while driving, including fatigue, lack of focus, improper driving position, calling, smoking and yawning.
You can start using the Driver Fatigue feature by using Fleet Management System. In addition to this driver fatigue feature, you can also enjoy other features such as fuel monitoring, vehicle usage management, vehicle utility improvement, and many other excellent features. Use FMS or TMS to use the TransTRACK Driver Fatigue feature!