Do You Microsleep?
I keep forgetting about the cool site Stumbleupon, which will find web sites based on your interests. Then I’ll get an email, say “Aha!” and stumble away. I’ve found a few good ideas this way. For example, the other day I read an article on microsleep.
Microsleep, which is caused by sleep deprivation, is just what it sounds like: a short episode of sleep that lasts anywhere from a fraction of a second to thirty seconds. According to Wikipedia, microsleep episodes have caused disasters such as train wrecks, plane crashes, and the Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident.
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison explain microsleeping as regions of the brain going off-line while the rest of the brain appears to be awake and functioning. Not getting enough sleep, it turns out, can affect some regions of the brain before others, making us check out at random intervals. In an experiment with rats, for example, 18 out of 20 neurons stayed awake; the rats in the meantime made mistakes.
Signs of microsleep include: drooping eyelids, head nods, blinking, blank stare, poor concentration etc. But at times these episode may happen with no outward signs. The person simply stops responding the stimuli. According to one site, these events are more likely before dawn and in early afternoon.
Like most of us in our sleep-robbed world, I’ve had this happen. I’ve felt sleepy behind the wheel, struggled to stay away in meetings, and periodically “zoned out.” I’ve always thought this was simply fatigue. But the above suggests that parts of my brain are literally shutting down and not responding for short periods of time. That is far more dangerous, and more than a little frightening.
Repetitive tasks that require less attention than novel tasks may be more susceptible to microsleep episodes, such as computer data entry. I wonder, too, about some laboratory testing. We all joke that after so many years of doing this job we can do it in our sleep. Ironically, we may be doing just that.
How about you? Do you microsleep?
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