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What is Microsleep?

SleepFirst™: National Sleep Foundation’s Drowsy Driving Safety Campaign


What Exactly is Microsleep?

You may be unfamiliar with the term, but microsleep is quite common and can be dangerous if it occurs while you are driving a vehicle.  

Simply put, microsleep is when you fall asleep for a period of several seconds. As the name implies, microsleep occurs so quickly that people who have an episode might not even realize they have fallen asleep. Microsleep can occur at any time of day, not just at night. During an episode, you may appear to be awake, and even have your eyes open, but your brain does not process information. 

Why is Microsleep Dangerous?

If you are sleep deprived, or if you have a sleep disorder, you are at higher risk for microsleep. Episodes can happen while you are driving a vehicle or operating other heavy machinery and this is when microsleep becomes precarious. Microsleep can lead to dangerous crashes, or running your car off of the road. If you are driving at a high speed, the likelihood of a severe crash increases. 

It is important that you make sure that you are alert before you get behind the wheel. If you feel drowsy, do not drive. If you find yourself with wandering thoughts, drifting into other lanes, or cannot remember the last few miles you drove, pull over to the side of the road to rest or ask someone else to drive. 

Preventing Microsleep

The best way to prevent microsleep is prioritizing sleep and making sure you get the right amount of sleep you need to feel refreshed and alert . The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours a night for adults, more for teenagers.  

You can also use the following techniques to better help you fall asleep at night. 

  1. Make sure to turn off electronics one hour prior to bed—no texting! 
  2. Set a relaxing bedtime routine, such as listening to calming music, reading a book or taking a warm bath. 
  3. Avoid caffeine in the late afternoon and evening. 
  4. If you are able, make sure to sleep in a cool, dark room.

For more information about drowsy driving, visit the Drowsy Driving Prevention Week ®  section of our website to learn more.