What is a Microsleep?

Have you ever been sitting in front of your computer and dozed off for a brief second, only to be jerked awake by a head-snap? If so, you have experienced a microsleep. These episodes are defined by brief periods of sleep and loss of attention. They can last from a split second to a couple of minutes. Microsleeps are associated with staring blankly into space, closing the eyes (although many people microsleep with their eyes open), and jerking of the head. The cause of microsleeps is not fully understood, but it is thought that parts of the brain fall asleep while other parts stay awake.

Some of the symptoms and warning signs associated with microsleeps are:

  • Blank stare
  • Dropping the head
  • Sudden body jerks
  • Slow blinking
  • No memory of past 1 or 2 minutes
  • Inability to keep eyes open
  • Excessive yawning
  • Body jerks
  • Constant blinking to stay awake

How can you decrease your risk of microsleeping?

The obvious answer to this question is to get more sleep! But there are other lifestyle adjustments that can be made to decrease the risk: avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime, take breaks if you feel tired, play music or roll down your windows while driving, and take 20 minute naps, if possible, between activities or when you feel tired during the day.

Microsleeps are dangerous!

Microsleep can be fatal when driving or operating machinery. Sleepy drivers are a major cause of motor vehicle crashes and are responsible for thousands of injuries and deaths each year. One study, done with individuals who were diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS), found that there was significant deterioration in vehicle control among drivers who experienced microsleep episodes compared to drivers who did not microsleep. During microsleep, a person’s ability to recognize and respond to crucial stimuli and events is greatly impaired due to lapses in attention.

What does this have to do with criminal cases?

Be aware that microsleeping is a real condition and affects many people. Those at higher risk are people with obstructive sleep apnea, people with narcolepsy, insomnia or other sleep disorders, and any person who experiences sleep deprivation. Microsleep and sleep deprivation may be significant factors in crashes that are attributed to other causes. A review by a medical professional will help identify risk factors that could potentially exacerbate drowsiness and risk for microsleep, such as prescription medications or medical conditions.

References

Boyle, L. N., Tippin, J., Paul, A., & Rizzo, M. (2008, March 1). Driver performance in the moments surrounding a microsleep. Transp Res Part F Traffic Psychol Behav, 11(2), 126-136.

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. (2019). What is micro-sleeping? Retrieved from UPMC Health Beat: https://share.upmc.com/2016/08/what-is-microsleeping/

 


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