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Could You Be At Risk of Experiencing Microsleeps?

When on the road, a momentary lapse in judgement can mean lifelong consequences. One phenomenon that has been more prominent in recent years is the occurrence of microsleeps while driving. Just as they sound, microsleeps involve experiencing a short period of unconsciousness, which is a particularly alarming occurrence when travelling at great speeds down a busy road or highway. So, what exactly makes people prone to this event?

Let’s have a closer look.

Why Do People Go Into A Microsleep?

If you’re experiencing microsleeps, it’s probably because your body is ready to shut down for a proper sleep as this is actually the first stage of sleep. When you reach a certain point of exhaustion, your brain works to send signals to the rest of your body to relax so that you can rest and repair . As a result, in a wave of fatigue, your body may simply fall asleep momentarily, experiencing a microsleep.

Now, while “micro” is thrown at the front of the term, that is not meant to reassure anyone that this event is safe or short-lived. The duration of a microsleep can last from a few to several seconds. That’s seconds where your eyes aren’t checking for traffic or pedestrians (or hazards), your hands aren’t in control of the wheel, and your feet aren’t in control of the brakes. And that’s sure enough time for a serious accident to occur.

The most alarming part is that it is a completely involuntary event. You are simply dozing off without realising it. This means that the percentage of drivers who have reported experiencing microsleep could potentially be a lot higher than the reported 41.3% recorded by Budget Direct.

Let’s look at some more concerning statistics about microsleep.

The Statistics

  • Driver fatigue is one of the four leading causes of preventable road accidents in Australia.
  • Driver fatigue contributes to about 20% of all fatal crashes on Australian roads.
  • Men are 12% more likely than women to say they have experienced microsleep.
  • Microsleeps and accidents related to fatigue are much more common on rural highways than in metro areas.

Want to learn more about the leading causes of accidents? We cover the most common factors contributing to car accidents in Australia in one of our recent articles.

Sleep Deprivation Is The Culprit

Sleep deprivation can be seen as the obvious culprit for those who experience microsleeps, although some may not know that this can be a chronic or acute condition. As its name suggests, sleep deprivation in a condition in which a person doesn’t get enough sleep. Therefore, someone with insomnia would experience this – but so can those driving for long periods of time without stopping.

About 1 in 5 people are sleep deprived – which is a concerning statistic. The fatigue that results from this condition affects various aspects of a person’s day to day life and can cause problems such as daytime sleepiness, irritability, forgetfulness, and overall underperformance at work and in personal lives.

When Are You Most At Risk?

If you are already sleep deprived, the worst thing you can do is get behind the wheel. Driving is an activity that takes low levels of attention and movement; therefore it isn’t stimulating enough to keep you awake and alert. Sleep deprived drivers travelling on a long stretch of straightforward road are at most risk of having a microsleep. That’s why many rural highways include trivia games and signs that regularly encourage drivers to take a break. So, what makes long haul drives so sleep inducing?

If your brain is deprived of sleep, it will eventually shut itself down. This process occurs a lot faster without the introduction of new or varied sensory information. That’s why trivia games can be a great method for staying alert – they make your brain kick into gear. Monotonous tasks with little stimulation (like driving on long straight stretches of road) on the other hand, can allow the brain to experience microsleep.

Unfortunately, those who work non-conventional hours or travel for work or have irregular sleeping cycles are particularly vulnerable to microsleeps.

Signs You Need To Pull Over Or Risk Having A Microsleep

  • Yawning
  • Poor concentration
  • Tired or sore eyes
  • Restlessness
  • Drowsiness
  • Slow reactions
  • Boredom
  • Feeling irritable
  • Drifting out of your lane
  • Missing exits and turns
  • Missing road signs
  • Heavy eyelids
  • Making fewer and larger steering corrections

Side note – Have you already experienced an accident? Perhaps due to a microsleep? If you’re debating whether you’re ready to get behind the wheel again, take these easy steps first.

Preventing Fatigued Driving/Microsleeps

Preventing microsleeps and fatigued driving is relatively simple: get enough sleep. So how much is enough?

According to Healthline, adults are recommended to have seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Although, we know, sometimes due to work and commitments (or fun road trips), this isn’t always possible.

Have a nap: If you’re not capable of getting your designated seven hours of sleep in one installment, try finding a comfortable and quiet place to nap if you can. If you’re driving, there are many rest stops along the highway where you can pull up and get a quick bit of shut eye – some even serve free coffee!

Is Fatigued Driving Illegal?

While driving while fatigued is not illegal, it is still incredibly dangerous and can leave a devastating impact on a community. This lack of concrete legislation also makes fatigued driving hard to monitor. Therefore, it is up to every driver to take responsibility, acknowledge the signs of fatigue, and make the right decision to pull over and rest to prevent becoming another statistic. While newer models of cars can detect if you are drowsy, if you continue to drift, or have been driving too long without a break, drivers still need to take action in preventing microsleeping.

Some precautions that help prevent microsleeping involve: making sure you have planned enough breaks, driving with a companion so you can take turns, and pulling over to sleep if you do experience a microsleep and even the first signs of a microsleep.

The Recommended Break Time?

Many experts recommend that drivers take a break every two hours for at least 15 minutes to break up long drives, stretch, and get the blood circulating.

Need Help Planning Your Stops?

For help on how to plan your stops check out pit-stop planner. This resource provides recommendations for pit-stops along your planned route at two hour intervals and also tells you what’s around the area, such as rest areas and cafes. This no doubt a must have for going on long road trips.

If you’re about to buckle up for the long haul, make sure all parts of your car are ready to go – including your windscreen. Prevent any chips from turning into cracks by getting them sealed with Novus’ premium-strength resin. To book in an appointment with your closest technician, call 13 22 34 or enquire online. Discover more of Novus’ products and services here.