what is microsleeping

A snap of the head. Prolonged eye closure. A blank stare. Most of us have experienced microsleeping at one time or another.

Maybe you dozed for a few seconds in front of your computer screen or while watching a movie. Worse yet, you tuned out during a meeting or even behind the wheel. For some people, microsleeping is a chronic health issue, particularly in those who suffer from other sleep disorders.

Microsleeping is characterized as brief and unintended episodes of sleep and loss of attention. Often lasting just seconds, microsleeps may occur when a person is fatigued or performing a monotonous task. In some circumstances, microsleeps can be life-threatening.

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Little Snooze, Big Problem: Dangers of Microsleeping

It’s still not clear exactly what happens in your brain during a microsleep. However, researchers suspect that certain parts of your brain can fall asleep briefly during the day, even while other areas remain awake.

In addition to nodding off for a short amount of time — between a few seconds to up to a couple of minutes — microsleeping can cause behaviors such as staring blankly into space, closing your eyes, and snapping your head upwards. But many people keep their eyes open during a bout of microsleeping, making it difficult for observers to understand what’s happening.

That’s a concern, because microsleeping can put everyone at risk. It’s one thing to doze off at your desk but an entirely different issue to fall asleep while driving, operating machinery, or — in the case of pilots — flying a plane.

Reducing Your Risk of Microsleeping

To reduce your risk of microsleeping, it helps to know your risk. You’re more likely to experience this problem if you have other sleep disorders, such as insomnia, and if you don’t get optimal amounts of shuteye.

Keep in mind these tips to prevent microsleeping:

  • Quick, 20-minute naps in between activities can sometimes prevent microsleeping. Just a few minutes of sleep can improve your overall state of alertness.
  • If you feel tired during the day and are unable to safely nap, be sure to take breaks or refrain from activities that could put you and others at risk.
  • You’re especially susceptible to microsleeping when you’re behind the wheel. Try listening to music or rolling down your windows. Warmth is a factor that makes us more likely to doze.
  • If you choose to drink coffee or another caffeinated beverage, remember that it may take 30 to 45 minutes for you to feel its effects. And when it’s time to get some shut-eye, caffeine may disrupt your natural sleep cycles.

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