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If you're driving between 2pm and 4pm, you're more likely to fall into a micro-sleep

The dangers of micro-sleeps were highlighted this week when a driver was jailed for two years for killing a young mother after drifting off at the wheel.

IF YOU FIND yourself in the middle of a long drive between 2pm and 4pm this afternoon, chances are you might find yourself getting sleepy.

Research shows drivers are most likely at this time of day to fall into a micro-sleep – in which you drift off for a couple of seconds at the wheel, sometimes with your eyes still open.

The dangers of driver micro-sleeps were highlighted this week when a judge jailed a Dublin man for two years for killing a young mother, Olivia Dunne, and injuring her 15-week-old baby after he drifted off momentarily at the wheel.

Olivia The scene of the crash where Olivia Dunne was killed in January 2014. Source: RollingNews.ie

Judge Patrick McCartan said he wanted to send a strong message to the community that fatigue needs to be in the minds of all drivers when he jailed 64-year-old Anthony Handley. Handley had no drugs or alcohol in his system.

Micro-sleep rates

According to the Road Safety Authority (RSA), micro-sleeps are a common occurrence, with one in 10 drivers reporting they’ve experienced it behind the wheel.

This rises to one in five amongst those who drive for a living.

Micro-sleeps occur when a driver becomes increasingly tired but continues to fight sleep. “If they keep fighting it, they drift in and out of conscious into a micro-sleep,” Brian Farrell of the RSA told TheJournal.ie.

“A micro sleep can last a couple of seconds or it might last up to 10 seconds,” he said.

You might come to and find yourself thinking, ‘I nearly drifted off’. Or people often go over the rumble strips on the road and jolt awake. The odd thing about micro sleeps is your eyes can be wide open at the same time.

Males are particularly prone to fighting sleep, Farrell said.

They’ll try rolling down the window, turning on the radio, having a cigarette. None of these things work. If you’re suffering from a lack of sleep, the only cure is sleep.

Peak times

Micro-sleeps are most likely to occur between 2pm and 4pm during the day and between 2am and 6am in the night, when our sleep rhythm is at its lowest peak. “Research has shown crashes tend to spike during that period,” says Farrell.

And collisions caused by fatigue tend to be the most serious of all – crashes in which a driver is asleep at the wheel are three times more likely to result in death or serious injury.

shutterstock_237097132 Source: Shutterstock/ambrozinio

“Because you’re asleep at the wheel, you’re taking no evasive action (such as braking),” Farrell said.

If you’re driving along at 100 k/hr and you fall into a micro-sleep for four seconds, you will travel the distance of about 30 car lengths with no-one essentially at the wheel. That’s how such serious accidents occur.

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Micro-sleeps shouldn’t be confused with the feeling many drivers who travel the same route every day experience – a feeling of arriving at your destination and not remembering anything about your drive.

This experience is so common it even has a name – familiar route syndrome.

“It’s when you drive the same route over and over again and it’s not challenging,” says Farrell. “You are awake and conscious, you just weren’t challenged during the drive.”

But if you start yawning and feeling sleepy, it’s time to stop the car, he says.

Source: RSA Ireland/YouTube

The RSA advises drivers to Stop, Sip, Sleep – pull over to a safe place, drink a cup of coffee if possible and then take a brief 15 minute nap.

“Everyone always asks why you should drink the coffee before going to sleep,” says Farrell. “It’s because caffeine takes 15 minutes to kick in, so when you wake up you should feel more refreshed.”

Read: Driver in ‘micro-sleep’ who killed woman and injured her baby sentenced to two years

Read: ‘Stop, sip, sleep’: New ad targets drivers who nod off at the wheel

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