Imagine. It’s a typical Thursday morning. The soft glow of the sun barely peeks through Seattle’s cloudy sky as sun rays warmly filter through your windshield on your drive northbound on I-405. You’re undergoing your daily morning commute, a mundane route you have traveled so often, you could drive it in your sleep. The soft hum of your car is accompanied by the pacifying melody of the wintertime classic “Let It Snow,” and you can hear the soft morning breeze outside your car.
You quietly hum along, reflecting on the previous night. It was a holiday work celebration, nothing too extravagant or special, but you had a good time with your colleagues, even though you didn’t get home until 1 a.m. Waking up at 5 a.m. certainly didn’t do any favors for your energy but you used to pull all-nighters all the time.
“I’ll be fine,” you tell yourself. “Just wait for the coffee to kick in.”
The only thing on your mind, is how you wished that you slept more last night. You dream of being able to get back into your warm and cozy bed, to let your mind and body rest. Alas, you must go to work, so you tell yourself to deal with the fatigue and carry on with your day.
“I’ll be fine,” you tell yourself as your eyelids start to get heavy, drooping.
“I’ll be fine,” you say once again, as the warmth inside your car seeps into your bones, your eyes slowly closing.
Your hand slips off the steering wheel. Unbeknownst to you, your car begins to swerve. A few seconds later, the honking of neighboring cars snaps you to attention, adrenaline pumping through your veins. You try to correct your car’s position, but it’s too late. The guardrail hurls at you as you close your eyes and brace yourself for the impact. You don’t wake up.
You told yourself that you would be fine, that another cup of Starbucks would suffice. You told yourself you would just go to work and take it easy. You told yourself sleep wasn’t a priority. Unfortunately, your brain and body did not agree with this decision. In fact, your brain and body had a solution to the fatigue that you were dealing with. A microsleep.
The monotonous task of driving to work, coupled with your few hours of sleep the night prior, caused you to experience a brief episode of microsleep — an involuntary and momentary state of unconsciousness that causes a person to lose their focus on the task at hand. Sleep deprivation caused your brain to force you to take a brief nap, which can range anywhere from a second to a half minute. A microsleep can also occur when a person’s eyes are open. Their brain and body simply taking a quick break.
When driving while sleep deprived, it is very possible for a driver to experience a lapse of microsleep, which is extremely dangerous for everybody on the road. More than 1,550 fatalities and 40,000 nonfatal injuries occur annually in the United States as a result of drowsy driving. With so much focus on drunk driving and other transportation accidents, drivers must realize that there is one very large road danger that hasn’t been discussed enough: Drowsy driving.
So the next time you get out on the road, do everybody a favor and make sure that you’re actually awake and have gotten enough sleep.
Amogh Pande and Kaycie Suzuki are students at Inglemoor High School working to raise awareness about sleep deprivation.