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What Is So Dangerous About Microsleep and Could a Micro-Nap Help?

You’re watching TV and your head starts to drop, or you’re sitting in a lengthy board meeting and don’t remember what was said in the last two minutes. Although you may not know it, in both instances, you may be experiencing microsleep. Siavash Panah, MD, a sleep specialist at Banner Health Clinic in Northern Colorado, helped define this dangerous result of sleepiness.

What is microsleep?

We’ve all done it. You lay in bed reading a book only to get to the end of the page and realize that you have no idea what you just read. This is usually a sign that it’s time to turn the light off and go to sleep. What you may not know is that you were experiencing microsleep. It’s not as extreme as nodding off completely, but it does affect our awareness and can make activities like driving a car or caring for a child extremely dangerous. Check out this infographic to learn about the levels of sleep.

What is Microsleep Infographic

Do I need a nap?

It’s no secret that good sleep is missing from most people’s daily schedules. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that one in three adults don’t get enough hours of sleep. So, the occasional nap can help fill the natural gaps that come with our hectic lifestyles.

What is micro-napping?

“In reality, all naps should be ‘micro,’” stated Dr. Panah. “An effective nap should not exceed about 20 to 30 minutes. If you’re still groggy after that, you’re not resting well enough during the night.” A “micro-nap”—sometimes called a power nap—is just a nap that lasts a matter of minutes, rather than hours. Dr. Panah offered a few tips to ensure you are napping effectively.

Can’t sleep? Get up.

You feel like a nap, but after 15 minutes of lying on your couch, you’re more awake than ever. It’s happened to the best of us. If you can’t fall asleep, get up and try again when you feel sleepy.

Still groggy? Get more sleep at night.

You may be dazed for a moment, but if you still feel drowsy after taking a nap, then you aren’t getting effective nighttime rest. If you struggle to get restful sleep, or experience excessive daytime sleepiness, there may be bigger issues at play like sleep apnea or other sleep disorders. A sleep specialist can help you get answers. To identify your risk for sleep apnea, take our free sleep assessment.

A proper nap doesn’t need an alarm.

You don’t want to nap too long, so setting an alarm is perfectly justified. But the truth is, if you need an alarm, you may need more restful nighttime sleep.

Good naps are often dreamless.

It typically takes over 45 minutes to enter REM sleep (the stage during which you dream). “If you are having dreams during your nap, this could be a sign that you aren’t getting enough REM sleep at night,” said Dr. Panah.

But Dr. Panah warned that napping too often is a sign that you aren’t resting well at night. It may be time to change up a few nighttime habits so that you can feel more rested during the day. Avoid the dangers of microsleep by creating time and space for effective rest every day.

Check out these other helpful articles about sleep and ensuring a good night’s rest.