Updated January 18, 2021Microsleep is a brief, uncontrollable episode of unconsciousness often due to extreme fatigue. The episode only lasts a split second or up to 30 seconds, but based on EEG (electroencephalograms) readings, brain activity in the motor cortex slows, just like with real, prolonged sleep.While falling asleep for a short duration doesn’t seem like a big deal, most episodes occur when a person is fighting to stay awake for whatever reason. If you’re driving, working with heavy machinery, or anything similar, a lapse in consciousness could mean life or death.By better understanding microsleep’s causes and symptoms, you can be better prepared to stay safe and prevent microsleep episodes.Warning Signs and Symptoms of MicrosleepMicrosleep can happen at any time of the day if you’re sleep-deprived, though it most frequently occurs during regular sleep hours, such as late at night or very early in the morning. Warning signs of microsleep you should look out for in yourself or those around you:Brief lapses of memoryBlank stares as a result of zoning outInability to keep eyes openExcessive yawningVery slow blinking or constant blinkingHead drooping or body slumping overBody jerking or twitchingDropping itemsLoss of attentionReduced sensitivity or lack of responsivenessMissing an exit while drivingCar accidents or near missesCauses of MicrosleepMost adults need between 7 to 9 hours of good quality sleep to feel well-rested. Any less can cause excessive daytime sleepiness and leave you at risk for microsleep. Let’s look into some reasons your poor sleep may lead to microsleeping.Sleep DeprivationThe most common cause of microsleep is a loss of sleep for any reason. 1 in 5 adults is regularly sleep-deprived, leaving a large chunk of the general population at risk of microsleeping.Microsleeping occurs when sleep-deprived people cannot go without sleep any longer. Even for people who regularly sleep well, even one night of bad sleep increases your chance of microsleeping.Sleep DisordersSome sleep disorders capable of interrupting your sleep include:Obstructive sleep apneaNarcolepsyCircadian rhythm disordersPeriodic limb movement disorderInsomniaParasomniasRestless legs syndromeAlso, the sleep medicines those with sleep disorders might take, such as benzodiazepines and antihistamines, can increase your risk of microsleeping and daytime sleepiness.Night Shift WorkWorking the graveyard shift or irregular shifts puts you at risk for worsened sleep. People who are often awake at odd times include truck drivers, doctors and nurses, gas station attendees, and parents.Working at night and then sleeping during the day is difficult since it doesn’t follow the body’s natural circadian rhythm. This only makes high-quality sleep harder to achieve.Night-shift workers may have a condition known as shift work disorder if they work nights. With shift work disorder, the body struggles to facilitate sleep, increasing their risk of insomnia, daytime sleepiness, and microsleeps.Research shows people who work night shifts and long hours are more likely to make mistakes, have accidents, or be injured while working.Monotonous TasksCompleting repetitive motions or tasks, such as driving, stationary work, or prolonged sitting can lead to drowsiness. Boring tasks can cause grogginess, even if you’ve slept well, as you don’t need to be as alert or pay much attention to what you’re doing.In a 2012 experiment, well-rested participants had to use a joystick to track a moving target on a computer for 50 minutes straight—a rather dull activity—while researchers monitored their brain and eye activity. During the 50-minute experiment, participants experienced an average of 79 episodes of microsleep, each lasting an average of 3 seconds.As the study suggests, the boredom from monotonous, repetitive tasks leaves individuals at a heightened risk of microsleeping.Microsleep Prevention and Safety PrecautionsAlthough there’s no guaranteed cure for microsleep, taking mindful action can reduce your risk of microsleep episodes. Here are some tips to prevent microsleep episodes:Get enough sleep: Since microsleep is often a result of sleep deprivation, ensuring you’re sleeping enough is the best way to reduce your risk of an episode. For adults, that means getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Eliminate distractions at night, sleep in a dark and quiet room, and try to stick to a nighttime routine to help you wind down.Enjoy power naps: If you can’t sleep enough for whatever reason, substitute it with a brief nap no longer than 30-45 minutes. This is especially important if you are about to engage in a higher-risk task, like driving. Naps any longer than this are counterproductive because they leave you feeling groggy due to sleep inertia.Take breaks when needed: Monotonous work or actions can deactivate parts of your brain (zoning out) and lead to microsleep. Pause, get up, and walk around every thirty or sixty minutes to keep your brain engaged and your blood flowing.Have conversations: Studies support conversation as a means of improving your energy. Even just hearing your name while speaking with somebody helps improve your attention span.Enjoy caffeine within reason: Although caffeine can boost your alertness and energy levels, it’s not a substitute for sleep and won’t eliminate the risk of microsleeps. It takes roughly 30 minutes for caffeine to start working and only helps for a couple of hours. Be sure not to drink caffeine at bedtime as it’ll make sleeping harder.Prepare for long drives or trips: If you’re going to be driving for long periods, try to sleep well before or drive with somebody so you can switch off. However, if you’re stuck driving on your own, take breaks when needed or stop at a safe location to take a power nap.Risks Involved With MicrosleepingThe major risk with microsleeping is the grogginess. When tired, your brain doesn’t function properly and you are more likely to make mistakes, struggle to focus or suffer from memory loss.While microsleep episodes can be harmless if you’re just sitting on the couch, other times, you may be driving or working, leading to critical mistakes or accidents.Drowsy Driving and Car AccidentsDrowsy driving accidents are one of the biggest risks with microsleeping. The AAA Foundation estimates 16.5 percent of fatal crashes to involve a drowsy driver.Microsleeping drastically impairs a person’s driving. Being tired worsens your eyesight and those who are sleep-deprived blink frequently, but slowly, and can have a scattered gaze. Sleep-deprived drivers also veer out of their lane three times more often than well-rested individuals.In 2006, researchers conducted the maintenance of wakefulness test (MWT) during a driving simulation. 31 drivers completed 30-minute intervals while being rated for their sleepiness, driving performance, and microsleep episodes using an electroencephalography test. Researchers noted a high correlation (.75) between microsleep episodes and crash risks. Additionally, the highest risk for impairment was found in the afternoon.Younger adults ages 18 to 24 tend to be at a higher risk of sleep deprivation due to their lifestyles; in turn, they are more sleepy when driving at night compared to older adults.Workplace AccidentsWhen tired at work, especially when working with others or in high-risk environments, microsleeping is highly dangerous.Based on one survey, roughly one-third of nurses noted falling asleep at work within that week. One case study found that an anesthesiologist had microsleep episodes for 30 percent of a 4-hour procedure. As healthcare professionals with patients whose lives are in their hands, sleep-deprived errors can be life-threatening.Some major workplace disasters have also been a result of microsleeping and drowsiness.In 2016, a London tram derailed because the driver fell into microsleep, killing 7 people and injuring 50 others. Other disasters due to drowsiness include the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster, the 2009 AirFrance Flight 447 crash, the Challenger Space Shuttle explosion, and the 2003 Waterfall train accident.While incidents of this degree are quite rare, a 2001 study predicts work-related accidents and mistakes due to fatigue cost the US up to $18 billion per year.FAQsAre microsleeps good for you if you’re tired?No, microsleeping is not good for you.First off, if you’re so exhausted to the point where you’re falling asleep, it means your sleep quality or quantity is insufficient. Poor sleep quality is associated with high blood pressure, weight gain, heart attacks, and more.Next, when you fall asleep in high-risk situations, such as when driving, you put yourself and others in danger.Can your brain fall asleep while you are awake?Your brain never entirely “shuts off,” even when you’re asleep. When you fall unconscious during microsleep, only certain parts of your brain slow down for several seconds in a state known as local sleep. While this state is similar to deep sleep, it’s not specifically REM sleep (rapid eye movement) or non-REM sleep.Why can’t I sleep even though I’m tired?You might be unable to sleep because your circadian rhythm is weak, or because you have insomnia. This can be a result of taking long daytime naps, caffeine consumption, blue light from electronic devices, a poor diet, sleep disorder, and anxiety or depression.Since the potential causes are quite vast, it’s best to assess your daily habits and determine what exactly is disrupting your sleep.How long can you go without sleep?The longest recorded time a person has spent without sleeping is 264 hours (11 days). Not sleeping for extended periods drastically affects your cognitive abilities and, by day three or four without sleep, you will start hallucinating. No point trying to break this record, as Guinness Book of World Record will not accept it due to health risks.Are 2 hours of sleep better than none?Sleeping for 2 hours isn’t ideal, but it’s better than nothing for your body and brain if it’s all the sleep you can get. If you aren’t able to sleep in a single chunk at night due to work or social obligations, you may consider breaking your sleep up into two or more periods across the 24 hour period, which is better than no sleep at all. ConclusionMicrosleep itself is not necessarily dangerous, but the conditions in which you can experience a microsleep episode are life-threatening. Knowing the signs of an upcoming microsleep episode can protect both yourself and others. “It is crucial to prioritize your sleep health—that means good sleep in domains like quality, duration, timing, regularity, daytime alertness—to reduce the likelihood of microsleeps,” says Dr. Jessee Dietch, a clinical psychologist.If you feel tired before operating machinery, driving, or caring for others, take breaks as much as possible or nap if you can. For those who are constantly fatigued, take the necessary steps to improve your sleep quality and quantity as it can reduce the risk of microsleeping entirely.This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional. Comments Cancel replyLeave a CommentYour email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * Comment Name Email I agree to the Terms and Conditions of this website.