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A microsleep is an unintended loss of attention which occur when a person is performing monotonous tasks . Often, it is the result of sleep deprivation, mental fatigue, depression, sleep apnea, hypoxia, narcolepsy, or hypersomnia. Microsleeping can occur at any time, typically without significant warning.
Microsleeps can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes and can become extremely dangerous when occurring during situations which demand constant alertness, such as driving a motor vehicle or working with heavy machinery. People who experience microsleeps are usually unaware that one had occurred. Many accidents and catastrophes have resulted from microsleep episodes in these circumstances. For example, a microsleep episode is claimed to have been one factor contributing to the Waterfall train disaster in 2003; the driver had a heart attack and the guard who should have reacted to the train's increasing speed is said by his defender to have microslept, thus causing him to be held unaccountable.
Who is at Risks/Causes
Everyone can experience microsleeps but the people who experience these sleeps the most are people with sleep disorders.They can occur at any time of day but most commonly during pre-dawn hours and mid-afternoon hours. The main causes of microsleeps are
- sleep deprivation
- sleeping disorders
- sleep apnea
There is little agreement on how best to identify microsleep episodes. Some experts define microsleep according to behavioral criteria
- blank stare
- head snapping
- prolonged eye closure
Other experts rely on EEG markers. One study at the University of Iowa defined EEG-monitored microsleeps in driving simulation as "a 3–14 second episode during which 4–7 Hz (theta) activity replaced the waking 8–13 Hz (alpha) background rhythm."
- International Classification of Sleep Disorders Diagnostic and Coding Manual, http://www.esst.org/adds/ICSD.pdf, page 343
- Blaivas AJ, Patel R, Hom D, Antigua K, Ashtyani H (2007). "Quantifying microsleep to help assess subjective sleepiness". Sleep Med. 8 (2): 156–9. doi:10.1016/j.sleep.2006.06.011. PMID 17239659.
- Paul, Amit; Linda Ng Boyle, Jon Tippin, Matthew Rizzo (2005). "Variability of driving performance during microsleeps" (PDF). Proceedings of the Third International Driving Symposium on Human Factors in Driver Assessment, Training and Vehicle Design. Retrieved 2008-02-10. [dead link]
- PMID 12530990 Ogilvie RD. The process of falling asleep. Sleep Med Rev 5: 247–270, 2001
- PMID 14592362 Microsleep and sleepiness: a comparison of multiple sleep latency test and scoring of microsleep as a diagnostic test for excessive daytime sleepiness. 2003
- PMID 15320529 Microsleep from the electro- and psychophysiological point of view. 2003