Microsleep – How does Microsleep occur ?

Most of us would have observed sleeping for a fraction of second. Such sleep is called Microsleep, which does not last for more than 30 seconds. These can occur anytime, with no signs of significant warnings. People suffering from an episode of microsleep often feel a sudden, temporary loss of focus but are unaware of the tiny sleep time. They feel they were awake the whole time.

Causes of Microsleep –

The following factors have been found to cause sleeping for a fraction of seconds –

  • Sleep deprivation (most common sign)
  • Mental fatigue (high level of stress often causes this)
  • Hypersomnia
  • Depression
  • Hypoxia
  • Sleep apnea
  • Narcolepsy

Effects of Microsleep

These are most dangerous during situations that demand constant alertness, like driving, working with some heavy machinery. A driver suddenly realizes he missed several seconds unnoticed, but he fails to realize that he was asleep during these few unnoticed seconds. These events can cause serious accidents.

Several accidents and catastrophes have occurred due to such uncontrollable episodes of sleep. One of such a major accident is the Waterfall train disaster, which occurred on 31st January in the 2003. It occurred near Waterfall, New South Wales, Australia which killed 7 passengers onboard along with the driver.

Identifying microsleeps is not easy. Certain behavioral criteria may be used to detect microsleeps. A few such behavioral criteria include drooping eyelids and head nods. But these are not always accurate. Accurate diagnosis can be done with the EEG (Electroencephalography) markers.

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