Sleep is an essential function for most species in the world. It allows us as humans to process experiences, create new memories, think creatively, and communicate rationally. Lack of sleep can be detrimental to our core bodily functions, taking a toll on things like cognitive processing, digestion, motor skills, and even our immune systems.
In recent years, sleep has become a widely discussed and debated topic, primarily because we don’t get enough of it. The effects of sleeplessness can be detrimental to individuals, relationships, and communities. One way that this problem can become problematic is when the brain is so sleep deprived that it resorts to brief opportunities to
What is Microsleep?
When the brain lacks sleep, it seeks out opportunities to reserve energy and even go into light stages of sleep. This is the body’s way of resting, even though we may know intellectually that this is ineffective or inappropriate to sleep. You can see this is full effect in a university classroom when a student nods off momentarily and jerks themselves awake.
Another insidious way this problem has become apparent is when the brain goes into micro sleep mode when a person is doing some kind of task. A sleep-deprived person is engaged in a monotonous or familiar activity, the brain sees an opportunity to slip into autopilot. An individual will appear to be awake but their brain waves slow down as if they were sleeping.
When does Microsleep Occur?
Simply put, someone who is sleep deprived can slip into a micro sleep at any moment, though they are more likely to do so when the brain is not fully alert or engaged in an activity. Kallysleep says for minimal sleep deprivation, these times tend to occur closer to natural sleeping windows, such as in the morning or at night. However, the more sleep deprived a person is, the greater the likelihood is that those individuals will experience microsleep at other random times throughout the day.
A person could be at the stove stirring a pot of soup staring out into space, if we are lucky. On the other extreme, the individual may be operating a piece of heavy equipment when their brain decides to take a quick break. This is not uncommon and can lead to minor mistakes, to significant injuries, and even death. The brain loses its ability to maintain concentration and prioritizes sleep over all other bodily functions.
Did you know? Nearly 20% of all fatal crashes in the United States were the result of drowsy or unalert driver.
The best and most effective way to avoid the micro sleep is through getting better quality sleep more often. This is easier said than done as time is our most valuable resource and we spend nearly half of our lives sleeping. It can be easy to shortchange ourselves, but there can be major long-term consequences for going this route.
Here are some things to consider to help improve the quality and quantity of you sleep:
- Medication interactions: taking certain medications may be causing you to lose sleep. Most commonly medications will alter our natural hormone production in some way that prevents our bodies from getting deep rest. This is particularly common with sleeping aids. While these medications can aid is getting sleep in the short-term, the body can become dependent on them and stop responding to natural stimuli, such as light or natural homes. Over time, the body will become dependent on the medications, when do not effectively simulate all of the stages of a natural sleep cycle. Ultimately the result is the same and the consequences can be devastating.
- Watch your food and drink consumption: sometimes people do not realize how much the food and drinks they consume are having an effect on sleep. If the stomach is too full when trying to go to bed, it can be uncomfortable or impossible for the body to fully relax. Additionally, even small amounts of caffeine can prevent the brain from shutting down when it is time for bed. If you are drinking caffeinated beverages or eating foods with small amounts of caffeine (this includes chocolate), you may want to try cutting back to see if that helps.
- Reduce distractions: most people spend some time in front of a screen in the hours leading up to bedtime, and many even will work on their phone for lengths of time once they are in bed. The light from the screen can signal to the brain that it is daytime and prevent people from falling asleep quickly. Moreover, the mere temptation of having the phone close by can be enough to keep you up far into the night.
When sleep is not an option
It is ideal for people to address the root cause of sleep deprivation be getting better quality and more frequent sleep. If this is not an option, the next option would be to avoid situations that can have major consequences related to microsleeping.
If getting better sleep is not an option, then people should do their best to avoid performing dangerous tasks. If you are aware that you are sleep deprived or drowsy, it is important to avoid tasks that can put you and other people in harm's way. Do not drive or operate machinery. It is also applicable to working in hazardous environments such as a professional kitchen or tasks that require significant coordination.
Again, this solution assumes that getting good sleep may not be a reasonable solution, which is the best option to consider. If that is the case, you should know to take serious precautions to avoid you and others getting hurt.
Off to Bed, Now
Good sleep is critical for each of us and lack of it can be detrimental. Avoid micro sleep and the associated problems by getting good quality sleep consistently. If that is not doable, find ways to perform your daily tasks and work tasks in a safe way.