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How does microsleep affect an individual?
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How does microsleep affect an individual?

Irregular sleep patterns and disruptions to the circadian rhythm, such as shift work or jet lag, may increase the risk of experiencing microsleep
Experts say sleep disorders, such as insomnia or sleep apnea, can also contribute to microsleep episodes.
Microsleep is particularly dangerous because it can happen while driving (Photo by Anantha Subramanyam K / Happiest Health)

A 30-year-old IT professional from Hyderabad had an unhealthy lifestyle and used to frequently drink alcohol and smoke. He was also overweight. As he was working on a nightshift, his sleep schedule was often disturbed. Gradually, he started showing poor performance at work due to daytime sleepiness. One day, he experienced microsleep, a condition where he felt drowsiness and sleepy for few seconds while driving back from work and met with a road mishap.

Highlighting the case of this IT professional, Dr Viswesvaran Balasubramanian, consultant interventional pulmonology and sleep medicine, Yashoda Hospitals, Hyderabad says, “The individual approached us, and we learned that he was having an erratic sleep pattern and used to binge-watch social media at night, which kept him awake for a longer time. I advised him to restrict his social media usage and keep the gadgets away while sleeping.”

The individual was obese and had snoring issues, says the expert. “Therefore, a sleep study was conducted on the individual and he was diagnosed with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). His sleep apnea was treated using the positive airway devices and he was put on diet to control his obesity,” says Dr Balasubramanian. The individual has now started showing good performance at work and does not feel lethargic like before.

Dr Balasubramanian says, “In this case, microsleep was a secondary health condition when compared to sleep apnea. However, since the individual was having chronic sleep deprivation, it also led to microsleep while driving.”

How long does microsleep last for an individual?

Microsleep is a condition where an individual experiences brief, involuntary episodes of sleep that last for a few seconds, say experts. “During these episodes, the individuals experience a temporary loss of consciousness and awareness,” says Dr Balasubramanian.

Experts say that it is triggered by various factors. “Microsleep can affect both the academic and professional performance of individuals. Students or professionals who are engaged in tasks that require concentration may find their productivity compromised by these brief lapses in attention. This can lead to errors, missed information, and overall decreased efficiency.”

However, microsleep is particularly dangerous because it can happen when driving or even while operating heavy machinery or in other high-risk areas.

What causes microsleep in an individual?

According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine in 2022, sleeping at the wheel is one of the factors that contribute to increased road accidents. Sleeping while driving is high in individuals diagnosed with OSA.

“One of the most common causes of microsleep is sleep deprivation. This condition is not so common but depends on the vulnerability of the individuals. Usually when the individuals don’t get enough sleep, their body attempts to compensate for the inadequate amount of sleep by entering brief periods of sleep, even when the individuals are required to be awake,” says Dr Sunil Kumar K, lead consultant – Interventional Pulmonology, Aster CMI, Bangalore.

Experts say sleep disorders, such as insomnia or sleep apnea, can also contribute to microsleep episodes. “Irregular sleep patterns and disruptions to the circadian rhythm, such as shift work or jet lag, may increase the risk of experiencing microsleep. Stress and fatigue can further elevate the risk of microsleep occurrences in an individual,” says Dr Balasubramanian.

Six ways to deal with microsleep

Experts say that to mitigate the risks associated with microsleep, it is crucial to prioritize regular and sufficient sleep, manage stress, and maintain a healthy sleep environment. Here are some of the ways to deal with microsleep:

1.Ensure good quality sleep

Experts say that to prevent microsleep, an individual needs to ensure they get six to seven hours of sufficient and uninterrupted sleep and maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Practicing good sleep hygiene is also essential to ensure enough restful sleep.

2. Engage in physical activity

Practicing exercises like walking, jogging, stretching can help reduce the production of hormones and improve metabolism. “Doing exercises will also help in reducing weight which can lead to other health conditions like hypertension, and diabetes,” shares Dr Kumar.

3. Avoid caffeine/alcohol close to bedtime

Drinking coffee or aerated drinks before sleeping can lead to acid reflux and disrupt sleep. Dr Balasubramanian says, “Stimulants like coffee or tea have caffeine in them which can suppress the production of hormone melatonin, which is necessary for initiating and maintaining sleep. Hence, it should be avoided.”

4. Keep gadgets away before sleeping

Blue-light emitted from the gadgets can interfere with sleep cycle leading to individuals taking more time to fall asleep. Hence, it is advised to keep the gadgets away at least one hour before sleeping.

5. Reduce stress

Stress in an individual increases the cortisol levels and affects sleep. Practicing relaxation techniques like yoga can help in reducing stress and anxiety in working professionals thereby preventing microsleep.

6. Screen for sleep problems

One of the causes of microsleep in individuals is sleep deprivation. “Sleep disorders like insomnia, OSA can also lead to microsleep in individuals. Hence, if the sleep issues persist, it is better to seek help of a health professional,” says Dr Kumar.

Takeaways

  • Microsleep is a condition when an individual experiences brief, involuntary episodes of sleep that last for a few seconds.
  • This condition is particularly dangerous, especially when the individual is driving or in high-risk situations.
  • Ensuring a good quality of sleep, avoiding caffeine/ alcohol intake before sleeping can help in preventing microsleep episodes.

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