How to Stop Microsleep: Prevention of Drowsy Driving

woman covering eyes with hand. microsleeping

How to Stop Microsleep

I have already talked about how I almost had an accident because of microsleeping while driving. It was a really close call and it made me realize that I needed to do something about my sleep habits.

You know, microsleeping is when you’re driving and you suddenly realize that you can’t remember the last few moments?

It’s not a fun feeling, actually it is very scary but unfortunately it’s a pretty common one. In fact, according to NHTSA , hundreds of people die in a year while driving drowsy.

It usually lasts for seconds, but can sometimes last up to a minute.

So what exactly is microsleep? And how can we prevent it from happening?

What is microsleep?

Microsleep is a brief, involuntary period of sleep or drowsiness that lasts around 1 to 30 seconds. During this time, brain waves slow down and the brain stops processing information as usual, resembling moments of unconsciousness. It is a fleeting, uncontrollable episode of sleep that doesn’t fall into any specific category or sleep stage.

Symptoms of microsleep include

  • lapses in attention and awareness,
  • a blank stare,
  • blinking of the eyes,
  • the head snapping upwards.

Microsleep is often the body’s response to severe sleep deprivation or consistently disrupted sleep, which can happen to individuals with sleep apnea, insomnia, or those who work night shifts. Microsleep can happen at any time, including while engaging in demanding activities such as driving, which can be dangerous.

If you are familiar with comics then Batman sleeps exactly like this.

How can you stop microsleeps?

1. Take naps during the day

Taking naps during the day can be a great way to prevent microsleeps and improve alertness. It’s important to keep naps short, ideally between 20-30 minutes, to avoid going into a deeper sleep phase that can make it harder to wake up.

It’s also important to find a quiet and comfortable place to nap, such as a quiet room or a car – read how to sleep in a moving car. Avoiding caffeine before napping can also be helpful. Scheduling naps during times when you typically experience microsleeps, such as mid-afternoon or during a break at work, can also be effective.

Remember that napping should not replace regular nighttime sleep, and it’s important to prioritize getting enough sleep each night.

2. Avoid sleep deprivation

Getting enough sleep is crucial in preventing microsleeps, which can lead to accidents and injuries. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night and create a relaxing bedtime routine to help you fall asleep faster. Avoid caffeine in the late afternoon and evening and turn off electronics at least an hour before bed. If possible, sleep in a cool, dark room.

If you have a long day at work or a long drive, schedule in regular naps even during worktime. And most importantly, listen to your body. If you’re feeling tired, take a break and don’t push yourself to drive or operate machinery. Prioritizing rest and avoiding sleep deprivation can help keep you alert and focused throughout the day.

3. Get enough sleep at night

Microsleeps can be dangerous, especially when driving or operating heavy machinery. To prevent them, it’s important to prioritize getting enough Zzz’s at night. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours of sleep per night for adults, with more for teenagers.

Establishing a consistent sleep routine can also help, such as going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. To improve the quality of your sleep, avoid stimulating activities before bedtime, keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature, and turn off electronic devices at least an hour before going to bed.

Relaxation techniques such as yoga nidra, meditation, the 478 sleep trick and light reading can also help you fall asleep faster.

4. Try relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques can help prevent microsleeps, which can lead to dangerous situations. Here’s a concise guide on how to use relaxation techniques to prevent microsleeps:

  • Step 1: Practice yoga nidra, meditation, NSDR or light stretching before bed to help relax your body and mind. This will make it easier for you to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night.
  • Step 2: Take a warm bath or read a book before bed. This can help to calm your mind and reduce stress, which will help you sleep better.
  • Step 3: Avoid caffeine and alcohol late in the day, and turn off all electronics an hour before bed. This will help your brain relax and prepare for sleep.
grayscale photo of man laying on bed microsleeping

5. Take a break every once in a while

Microsleeps are brief periods of sleep that can occur during the day, even when you’re trying to stay awake. Taking breaks during repetitive tasks can help you stay focused and alert, and moving around during those breaks can add an extra boost. Planning ahead for activities that might be boring, like long drives or meetings, can also help prevent microsleeps. Remember, the best assistant is a well-rested driver.

6. Don’t do anything that is monotonous

To prevent microsleep during monotonous activities, it’s important to plan ahead. Break up the activity into smaller chunks and incorporate mental stimulation strategies like playing upbeat music or taking breaks to stretch or walk around.

Comparison of sleep, microsleep, and power napping

SleepMicrosleepPower Napping
DurationSeveral hours (typically 7-9 hours)Brief episodes (a few seconds to minutes)Short duration (usually 10-20 minutes)
PurposeRestores physical and mental well-beingUnintentional lapses into sleep due to sleep deprivation or monotonyProvides a quick boost of alertness and energy
ConsciousnessUnconsciousPartial loss of consciousnessSemi-conscious
Brain ActivitySlows downBriefly enters a sleep-like stateEnters a state of light sleep
BenefitsRestores energy, consolidates memory, enhances cognitive functionProvides temporary alertness and increased focusImproves alertness, creativity, and mood
RisksSleep disorders can affect mental health, insufficient sleep can lead to tiredness and impaired performanceImpaired awareness and responsiveness, increased risk of accidentsIf too long, can lead to sleep inertia (grogginess) upon waking
Ideal TimingRegularly scheduled overnight sleepUnpredictable and unwanted, can occur during monotonous activitiesMidday or early afternoon for a quick recharge
EnvironmentComfortable, dark, quiet, and conducive to sleepCan occur in any setting, often when engaged in monotonous tasksIdeally in a quiet and relaxing environment
Comparing sleep, microsleep, and power napping

It’s important to note that while power napping can provide a quick boost of alertness and energy, it does not substitute for regular, sufficient sleep. Sleep deprivation cannot be fully compensated by power naps alone, and it’s essential to prioritize regular, quality sleep for overall health and well-being.

What Strategies Do Pilots Use to Avoid Jet Lag and Stay Alert During Flights?

Pilots employ various strategies for avoiding pilot jet lag and staying alert during flights. They prioritize maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, adjusting their internal clock gradually before long-haul flights, and staying hydrated during the journey. They also make use of specialized lighting systems, such as bright light exposure or minimal blue light, to regulate their circadian rhythm. In addition, pilots engage in physical activity and stretching exercises to combat fatigue and stimulate blood circulation throughout their flights.

Comparison of hypersomnia and micro sleep

Hypersomnia and microsleep are both sleep-related phenomena, but they differ in their duration and underlying causes. Here’s a comparison between hypersomnia and microsleep:

DurationExcessive sleepiness lasting for extended periods, typically more than 9 hours per dayBrief episodes of sleep lasting a few seconds to minutes
SleepinessConstant or recurrent excessive daytime sleepinessBrief, sudden episodes of sleepiness
CausesCan be primary (idiopathic) or secondary to underlying medical conditions or medicationsSleep deprivation, monotony, or sleep disorders
AwarenessThe person is usually aware of their excessive sleepiness and struggles to stay awakeThe person may not be aware that they briefly fell asleep
ImpairmentInterferes with daily functioning and can affect cognitive and physical abilitiesBriefly impairs attention, responsiveness, and performance
FrequencyChronic condition, present for extended periods of timeEpisodic and can occur sporadically
TreatmentDepends on the underlying cause and may involve medications, lifestyle adjustments, or therapyAddressing sleep deprivation, managing sleep disorders, or improving sleep habits
ExamplesNarcolepsy, idiopathic hypersomniaMicrosleep episodes while driving or during monotonous tasks
comparison between hypersomnia and microsleep

Hypersomnia refers to excessive sleepiness and prolonged sleep duration, often characterized by an ongoing or recurring need for more sleep than is typical. It can significantly impact daily life and is often associated with conditions such as narcolepsy or idiopathic hypersomnia.

In contrast, microsleep refers to brief episodes of sleep that can occur during wakefulness, usually due to factors like sleep deprivation, monotony, or sleep disorders. These episodes are typically short and can be accompanied by impaired attention and responsiveness.


What are the causes of microsleep?

Microsleep can be caused by various factors, some of which are listed below:

  1. Sleep Deprivation: The most common cause of microsleep is a lack of sleep. Even a single night of inadequate sleep can lead to sleep deprivation and trigger microsleep.
  2. Monotonous Tasks: Engaging in monotonous, repetitive tasks can cause mental fatigue, leading to microsleep.
  3. Certain Medications: Some medications, especially those with sedative effects, can trigger microsleep episodes.
  4. Untreated Sleep Disorders: Conditions like sleep apnea or narcolepsy can cause microsleep if left untreated. Sleep apnea can be detected even by your apple watch so go ahead.
  5. Extended Periods of Wakefulness: Research data shows that staying awake for 24 hours or longer can increase the likelihood of experiencing microsleep.
  6. Physical and Psychological Conditions: Rare diseases or psychological conditions can cause microsleep and may require medical intervention.

It’s important to note that experiencing microsleep does not necessarily mean one is sleep deprived or has a sleep disorder. Even people who are fully rested can experience microsleep, especially while doing repetitive or tedious tasks. However, people with sleep disorders or those who are sleep deprived are at an increased risk of experiencing microsleep.

How to test for microsleeping?

Testing for microsleep can be challenging because it typically occurs sporadically and involuntarily. However, there are a few methods that can help assess the likelihood of microsleep episodes:

  1. Sleep Latency Test: This test measures how quickly you fall asleep in a quiet and comfortable environment. During the test, you’re instructed to sit in a relaxed position and avoid stimulating activities. If you fall asleep easily within a few minutes, it may indicate a higher likelihood of experiencing microsleep.
  2. Maintenance of Wakefulness Test (MWT): This test evaluates your ability to stay awake in a quiet and dimly lit room. It involves several 40-minute sessions where you’re asked to stay awake while sitting in a comfortable position. Microsleep episodes during these sessions can be recorded and analyzed.
  3. Psychomotor Vigilance Test (PVT): This is a widely used test to measure alertness and detect lapses in attention. It involves responding quickly to visual stimuli presented on a computer screen. Slowed reaction times or lapses in attention during the test may suggest a higher risk of microsleep.

It’s important to note, that it’s crucial to address the underlying causes, such as sleep deprivation or sleep disorders, by practicing good sleep hygiene, managing stress, and seeking medical advice if necessary.

What are the risks associated with microsleep?

Microsleep can be dangerous in situations that require quick reactions, such as driving, operating heavy machinery, or performing surgery. Microsleep can cause a decrease in performance and make people less responsive or unresponsive to stimuli, making high-stakes situations risky.

Microsleep can be a result of severe sleep deprivation, and it can increase the risk of vehicle accidents, errors at work, and confusion. The biggest danger from microsleep is when it happens on the road, causing 1 in 8 crashes requiring hospitalization in the U.S.

Microsleep can be dangerous for professionals like truck drivers, pilots, air traffic controllers, medical professionals, and shift workers.

How can we prevent microsleep?

Preventing microsleep begins with addressing its underlying causes. To minimize the likelihood of experiencing these unintentional sleep episodes, you can maintain a regular sleep schedule according to your own chronotype, create a comfortable sleep environment, address potential sleep disorders, take regular breaks, stay active, stay hydrated, expose yourself to natural light, and prioritize rest.

How does fatigue and sleep deprivation lead to microsleep?

Fatigue and sleep deprivation are the primary causes of microsleep. When a person is sleep deprived, their body’s sleep pressure level remains elevated, which can cause microsleep even during periods when they should be awake. As fatigue increases, the risk of experiencing a microsleep episode also increases.

People with sleep disorders such as insomnia, narcolepsy, and sleep apnea are at increased risk of experiencing microsleep. In fact, people with shift work-related sleep disorders are three times as likely to be involved in car crashes caused by sleepiness.

What are the effects of caffeine on microsleep?

Caffeine is a stimulant that can help reduce the effects of sleep deprivation, including microsleep. It works by blocking adenosine receptors in the brain, which is a chemical that builds up in the body throughout the day and makes us feel sleepy. However, while caffeine can help alleviate some of the symptoms of microsleep, it is not a solution to the underlying problem of sleep deprivation.

Caffeine can disrupt the natural sleep cycle and make it more difficult to fall asleep after coffee consumption, leading to even more sleep deprivation in the long run.

Therefore, it’s best to consume caffeine in moderation and earlier in the day to avoid interfering with your natural sleep patterns and circadian rhythm.

What is the difference between a micro nap and a power nap?

A micro nap and a power nap are both short periods of rest that can help re-energize you during the day. However, they are different in terms of intention and duration.

  • A micro nap is an unintentional episode of sleep that lasts up to 30 seconds, which can happen when you’re sleep-deprived and doing something like watching TV or reading.
  • A power nap is a deliberate and planned period of rest that lasts between 20 and 30 minutes. Power naps are taken to help replenish energy levels and improve alertness. They are strategically timed to prevent disrupted sleep at night and can be helpful in preventing microsleep episodes.

While a 20-minute power nap can boost memory, a 30-minute nap can improve decision-making skills. It’s important to note that neither micro naps nor power naps can substitute for regular nighttime sleep.

What do Microsleeps feel like?

Microsleeps often feel like zoning out or daydreaming, but with physical and cognitive signs that indicate an episode of microsleep. You may experience frequent blinking, difficulty keeping your eyes open, head nodding, difficulty maintaining a conversation, memory lapses, drifting from your lane while driving, and delayed response to unexpected situations.

These signs are often accompanied by a feeling of heaviness in the eyes, a sudden decrease in awareness, and a sensation of jolting awake. It’s like being asleep while awake, and it can impair decision-making capabilities during and after awakening from microsleeps.

How long can Microsleeps last up to?

Microsleeps are brief, involuntary lapses in consciousness that typically last from a half-second to 30 seconds. In severe cases, they can last up to a few minutes, but are usually classified as sleep attacks or lapses.

Are Microsleeps noticeable?

Microsleeps are often hard to recognize and can occur without a person’s awareness. People experiencing microsleep episodes may not notice any obvious symptoms, or they may notice sudden lapses in attention, confusion during complex tasks, feeling zoned out, and forgetting the last few moments.

Bystanders might notice that a person looks awake but does not seem fully responsive. People might not remember snippets of conversation, or they might need to be reminded of what they were doing just a few seconds before.

What are the warning signs?

The warning signs of microsleep include inattentiveness, brief memory lapses, missing exits while driving, hitting the highway’s rumble strip, car accidents or near misses, head bobbing, brief loss of muscle control, falling down or slumping over, and dropping something held.

Blinking slowly or constantly, having trouble understanding information, jolting awake with sudden body movements, and excessive yawning are also potential symptoms. It’s important to recognize these signs and take a break to rest and recharge before continuing any activity.


By lezt

Lez Taylor, Founder and CEO of Corala Blanket. She tried every sleep system and trick to conquer her insomnia for good.