Were you ever in that situation, when you become horribly sleepy while driving? It is quite possible people don't even notice that something is happening, because it's all about just a small momentary loss of concentration due to involuntary sleep episodes, which can only last for a mere fragment of a second and thereby pass unnoticed. Sadly, the things that can happen during those 'lost' fragments, are utterly devastating.

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What we are experiencing, when something like this happens, is called microsleep and is all but a rare occurance. The most worrying part of it is the fact that a person may have a temporary episode of sleep that can last to up to 30 seconds, during which a person's eyes will often stay open, so others don't even realize the peril they're in. 

According to a survey, conducted by the British Road Safety Charity Brake among 1,000 drivers, 45 percent of male and 22 percent of female drivers admitted to having experienced microsleep (lasting long enough to make them aware of it) at least once or several times during the drive. As it can be triggered by monotonous tasks, microsleep is believed to be responsible for at least 20 percent of road accidents on less engaging, less 'thrilling' routes. The most common cause of microsleep episodes, though, is sleep deprivation, either because a person doesn't know how to sleep efficiently or simply because a person is lacking adequate, quality sleep.

So how does microsleep manifest itself in practice? If you notice droopy eyes, slow eyelid-closure, and head nodding, chances are this is it. People lose awareness and gain it back after a brief lapse in consciousness, leaving an unpleasant sense of insecurity and confusion. It most commonly occurs in monotonous situations on long, flat roads.

How can you tell you might soon experience an epsiode of uncontrolled sleep? There are plenty of signals, such as constant yawning, blinking, lack of or difficulties concentrating, tired or sore eyes, feeling restless or sleepy and bored. A person often doesn't notice the traffic signs and finds it difficult to follow the driving lane. What responisble drivers need to do, is recognize the signals and become aware of them. Microsleep may come unnoticed, but never suddenly and unannounced.

Stay alert at all times and once you realize you might soon experience an episode, stop safely as soon as possible and get out of the car. Take a walk, drink some coffee, even take a short, 15-minute nap.  You may arrive to your destination a little later, but at least you'll get there. 

Feb. 22, 2016 Driving photo: Shutterstock

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