Have you ever experienced the tendency to doze off while driving? Or struggled to keep your eyes wide open when working on your laptop? Chances are, your brain is undergoing what’s called microsleep.
What is microsleep?
Microsleep is a fleeting, uncontrollable, brief episode of sleep which can last anywhere from a single fraction of a second up to 10 full seconds.
Typically, a person goes through two stages when sleeping, which are rapid eye movement sleep (REM) sleep and non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM). Microsleep does not fall directly into either category of sleep, as it is a fleeting and uncontrollable episode that does not
last long enough for the characteristics of either state of sleep to emerge.
Regarding the underlying phenomena of microsleep, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found that some nerve cells in a sleep-deprived yet awake brain can briefly go "off line," into a sleep-like state, while the rest of the brain appears awake.
Microsleep can be dangerous. Here’s why
On June 28, a 22-year-old man died in a motorcycle accident after he experienced microsleep while travelling from Kluang, Johor to Universiti Putra Malaysia. Before the incident, apparently the young man uploaded an Instagram story stating that he had fallen asleep several times while riding his motorcycle.
We all find such experience too familiar, yet it is only a matter of chance before a tragic accident happens. If microsleep overtakes you when you’re behind the wheel, your slowed reaction time could be deadly, which may result in a road traffic accident. In fact, Malaysia has the third highest fatality rate from road traffic accidents in Asia and Asean, behind Thailand and Vietnam. Hence it is not something that one can take lightly.
How to prevent microsleep
The primary cause of microsleep is, obviously, the lack of sleep. Beside avoid driving at night, getting a good sleep before a long distance driving is crucial. Here are ways you can adopt to get a high quality sleep:
Avoid eating a large meal before sleep
Avoid drinking alcohol, coffee or smoking a cigarette before bed
Going to bed (and waking up) at the same time each day
Engaging in relaxing nighttime rituals such as taking a bath or reading a book
Avoid looking at your phone before bed, as the lights of the screen can work to stimulate the brain and keep it awake.
Other causes of microsleep include:
Periodic limb movement disorder
Narcolepsy, a sleep disorder characterized by excessive sleepiness, sleep paralysis, and hallucinations
Many of these conditions lead to fragmentation of the states of sleep and wakefulness, making an unexpected transition from one to the other more likely.
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