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What is it and how to take action to stay alert while driving

Ever felt that overwhelming desire to shut your eyes and take '40 winks'? That's a phenomenon known as 'microsleep'.

What is microsleep?

Microsleep or micro napping refers to a very short sleep measured in seconds. The brain slows down and eyes usually close or vision is blurred. Someone experiencing microsleep may become drowsy, have trouble focusing and yawn repeatedly. It can happen when you are sleep deprived or tired - for example you may drop off in the evening whilst watching the TV on the sofa, but just for a little while. However, imagine this happening whilst driving and how dangerous this can be.

When would this happen while driving?

Microsleep might well happen if you have been driving for a long time without a break, it's night time, maybe the other passengers in the car have all fallen asleep or you are just genuinely feeling really tired. Maybe it's been a long day at a meeting and you'd prefer to drive home afterwards than stay overnight. Motorway driving is very monotonous and can cause lapses in concentration. The implications of dropping off to sleep whilst being in control of a car need not be described....

Hacks to avoid 'falling asleep at the wheel'

  • Make sure you get enough rest before starting your journey - don't set out tired - re-plan your journey.
  • If you're already on the road, stop at the first opportunity, pull over, park up and sleep for a while in a safe place. Don't do this on the hard shoulder though, it is dangerous.
  • Know your sleeping habits, if you naturally sleep early, don't drive late into the night and vice versa.
  • Plan your journey in advance to include regular breaks. Get out of the car and walk around and stretch your muscles. Rest your eyes, don't then spend ages on a game console or mobile phone.
  • Chat to your passenger and ask them to check you for signs of fatigue.
  • Have a caffeinated coffee or energy drink and open the window. A caffeine shot is short lived though, your tiredness will likely return.
  • Don't rely solely on the car's driver assistance features. Although an aid to safety, nothing is better than a fully alert driver.
  • If you have a smartphone or watch, why not set yourself an alarm after a certain time to remind you to stop and rest?
  • Listen to advice from your passengers - if they are urging you to stop and rest - take note!

We wish you many miles of safe driving. If you would like to know more about the driver assistance and safety features on your vehicle, please get in touch with our dealership teams.

Happy Motoring!

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Driver at sunset
Driver alert system on dashboard

(Thanks to our Safety Research team at ŠKODA for some of these hacks)