Sleep Basics: What Is Microsleep?

This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation

Getting enough sleep is a constant goal for many busy Americans. One indicator that you might not be reaching that goal is feelings of afternoon sluggishness turning into moments of actually dozing off (at your desk, in front of your TV, even in your car) before you snap back awake. These bouts of so-called microsleep are a symptom of sleep deprivation. Learn more about microsleep, its causes, and ways to address it so you can feel more energized and awake each day.

What Is Microsleep?

This phenomenon is defined as a very brief moment of sleep, usually lasting a second or two but sometimes occurring for up to 30 seconds. Often, people who experience microsleep don’t even realize that it’s happening.

Microsleep Causes

Not getting enough sleep, which for most adults means between seven and nine hours a night, can lead to sleep deprivation and the experience of microsleep. Microsleep may also be a result of sleep apnea, a breathing condition that interrupts your slumber and leaves you feeling perpetually tired.

Risks of Microsleep

Falling asleep for a few minutes during the evening news isn’t a big deal. But if microsleep overtakes you when you’re behind the wheel, your slowed reaction time could be deadly. In fact, almost one million car accidents are caused by drowsy drivers, resulting in 5,000 deaths annually.

How to Prevent Microsleep

Squeezing in the necessary hours for a solid night’s sleep can be a challenge. Take a look at your routine, and consider making small changes, such as turning in 15 minutes earlier at night. Other smart habits include going to bed (and waking up) at the same time each day, engaging in relaxing nighttime rituals such as taking a bath or reading a book, exercising regularly, and limiting caffeine and alcohol before you tuck in.