A snap of the head. Prolonged eye closure. A blank stare. Most of us have experienced micro-sleeping 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, micro-sleeping is a chronic health issue, particularly in those who suffer from other sleep disorders.
Micro-sleeping is characterized as brief and unintended episodes of sleep and loss of attention. Often lasting just seconds, micro-sleeps may occur when a person is fatigued or performing a monotonous task. In some circumstances, micro-sleeps can be life-threatening.
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Little Snooze, Big Problem: Dangers of Micro-Sleeping
It’s still not clear exactly what happens in your brain during a micro-sleep. 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 — micro-sleeping 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 micro-sleeping, making it difficult for observers to understand what’s happening.
That’s a concern, because micro-sleeping 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.
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Reducing Your Risk of Micro-Sleeping
To reduce your risk of micro-sleeping, 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 micro-sleeping:
- Quick, 20-minute naps in between activities can sometimes prevent micro-sleeping. 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 micro-sleeping 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.
The UPMC Department of Neurosurgery is the largest academic neurosurgical provider in the United States. We perform more than 11,000 procedures each year. We treat conditions of the brain, skull base, spine, and nerves, including the most complex disorders. Whether your condition requires surgery or not, we strive to provide the most advanced, complete care possible. Our surgeons are developing new techniques and tools, including minimally invasive treatments. U.S. News & World Report ranks neurology and neurosurgery at UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as among the best in the country. We also rank among the top neurosurgery departments in the U.S. for National Institutes of Health funding, a benchmark in research excellence.