A micro sleep occurs when a person has an unintended loss of attention that may last from a few second to half a minute. If generally occurs when a person is trying to stay awake while doing a boring or repetitive task.
A person who has had an episode of micro sleep is usually unaware they have had an episode and think they were awake the entire time or they temporarily lost focus, or “spaced out”.
If a micro sleep occurs during a boring class lecture, there is usually no repercussion other that being laughed at, but if it occurs while driving, serious consequences can result.
During a micro sleep a person’s eyes may still be open and they may be functioning, but they don’t respond to outside events like a curve in the road or a stop light. While most of a person’s brain is awake, a portion seems to be taking a nap.
Physical Symptoms of Micro Sleep:
- drooping eyelids
- head nods
- blank stare
- multiple blinks
- eyelids closed
- poor concentration
Micro sleep could be caused by sleep deprivation, mental fatigue, sleep apnea, hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness), narcolepsy or hypoxia (lack of oxygen). It can happen while sitting in front of a computer screen or while attending a boring lecture and nodding off for a few moments increases the chances of making a mistake or failing to respond to outside information.
Micro sleep is most dangerous when alertness is required as in driving, flying an aircraft or operating heavy machinery. Drivers may not remember the last few seconds, suddenly becoming aware of their current location or finding themselves drifting over the center line or hitting the rumble strip on the shoulder of the road.
Episodes of micro sleep are more likely to occur before dawn and early in the afternoon. People have been involved in fatal car accidents when they crossed over the center line into the path a semi in ideal driving conditions for no apparent reason.
The more sleep deprived a person is, the more likely they will suffer an episode of micro sleep. If you are driving then you have to pull over to rest and if you feel yourself having some of the symptoms of a micro sleep then you need to take a break.
And the next time you put the milk in the cupboard instead of the fridge, realize that you have to reduce your accumulated sleep debt by making sleep a higher priority.