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What is 'microsleep?'

When a driver dozes off for even a second, catastrophic consequences can ensue. They can swerve into another lane or fail to stop when the vehicle ahead of them does. They may not see a pedestrian or bicyclist entering their path.

There's a term for brief episodes of dozing off, which can last from one to ten seconds — microsleep. It often occurs when someone is already drowsy and fighting to stay awake.

Incidents of microsleep behind the wheel often occur at night when someone is sleep-deprived. Sleep disorders like sleep apnea and narcolepsy can contribute to sleep deprivation and the odds of experiencing microsleep behind the wheel (or anywhere).

Sometimes, people experience microsleep without even realizing it. There are signs, however, that you may be having episodes of microsleep behind the wheel. These include:

  • Missing your exit or road sign
  • Hitting a rumble strip
  • Nearly hitting another car
  • Inattentiveness
  • Briefly losing muscle control
  • Slumping over or bobbing your head
  • Memory lapse (forgetting the last few miles or minutes)

There are other signs of microsleep that can occur in our daily lives. For example, dropping something for no apparent reason could occur when you slip into sleep. Unless you're driving a car, operating some other form of heavy machinery or using a potentially dangerous tool, dozing off for a second isn't likely to be too dangerous. However, it's essential to recognize symptoms of microsleep — preferably before you get behind the wheel.

The best way to prevent episodes of microsleep is to get enough sleep — specifically, quality sleep. Unfortunately, not enough people do that. Many are juggling some combination of work, school, kids and family and social obligations.

Even if you're careful not to get behind the wheel when you're drowsy, other people might. If you've been injured by a driver who may have dozed off at the wheel, you have the right to seek compensation to help cover your medical care, physical therapy, lost wages and other financial losses.

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