Dec 052013

In the recent New York train crash, the train’s engineer said that he was in a “daze situation” where he zoned out. Sleep researchers now know that when we are sleep deprived, a few localized brain cells can stop functioning while the rest of the brain is still awake. This is called micro-sleep.

ScienceDaily reports that researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison claim that “some nerve cells in a sleep-deprived yet awake brain can briefly go ‘off line,’ into a sleep-like state, while the rest of the brain appears awake.” They state further, “Specific groups of neurons may be falling asleep, with negative consequences on performance.”

I’ve experienced this myself while driving. After a long day, I’ve found myself not being consciously aware of some parts of a trip. If you have put things in their wrong place in the kitchen or dropped small items out of your hand for an unknown reason, you probably experienced micro-sleep. It can occur while performing a routine task. Most of your brain is awake, but a few critical brain cells may have fallen asleep.

If you continue without taking a nap or getting a full night’s sleep, the entire brain can automatically turn off and go to sleep. When this happens, we have no control in preventing it. When your brain decides it needs sleep, it just shuts down.

The only remedy for micro-sleep is sleep. If we don’t give our brains sufficient sleep, we risk making mistakes, and sometimes these mistakes can cause the death of innocent lives.

So if you find yourself in a daze or zoning out, pull over and take a nap. If you don’t, you’re endangering innocent lives.