Dangerous microsleep: Useful tips how to stay alert

Dangerous microsleep: Useful tips how to stay alert

Microsleep has caused lots of fatal accidents. Although microsleep is still not understood fully, safety experts agree that the only effective prevention is getting enough rest.

30. 1. 2020 Škoda World

Lots of drivers will have experienced the situation. You’ve been driving for hours, it's night, and now you’re not far from home. There’s hardly any traffic, your passengers fell asleep a long time ago, the radio seems to have been playing the same songs over and over. Suddenly your head drops down. After a fraction of a second you wake up and jerk the steering wheel to stop the car going off the road. That’s microsleep.

Many motorists are lucky and get away with it, but others aren’t so fortunate. “Microsleep comes under the category of accidents caused by not paying attention to driving, which is generally the most common and most tragic cause of accidents,” says Karel Mulač, head of ŠKODA’s Traffic Safety Research team.

Karel Mulač

We can only reliably identify microsleep as the cause of an accident when the driver admits to it. But often he can’t.

Karel Mulač, head of ŠKODA’s Traffic Safety Research team.


THE ONLY WAY TO PREVENT MICROSLEEP IS BY GETTING ENOUGH RESTŠKODA SUPERB and Smart Light Assist - a very good helper at night, but only for the vigilant driver

A moving car that nobody is actually driving at that moment can leave the road and collide with any obstacle, or a pedestrian or a cyclist, or can hit the car in front of it or, even worse, moving in the opposite direction on the other side of the road. “While you can pass legislation to prohibit phone use at the wheel and issue fines, there’s nothing you can do about microsleep,” says Mulač, explaining why drivers often fail to take this problem seriously enough.

The danger of night and boredom

Tiredness is the obvious cause of microsleep. But tiredness can result from various factors. “These situations occur most often at night, typically after a long journey or when the driver has not had enough sleep. But microsleep can happen during the day as well,” Mulač explains. “Sleep generally regenerates the body and this need can overcome us after a tough work meeting, for example. When a team of colleagues drive back hundreds of kilometres after a meeting like that, they fall asleep on the way and the driver is left alone, but he wants to sleep as well,” Mulač says.

Docent Matúš Šucha from the psychology department of Palacký University in Olomouc confirms that microsleep can occur in unexpected situations as well. “Tiredness can come from monotonous activities – even someone who has had enough sleep and rest can get tired after performing a monotonous activity for a long time. When we are exposed to constantly repeating impulses, we can become less alert and our activity falls,” Šucha explains.

Driving is just that kind of monotonous activity. “Drivers often have their driving automated, so the body receives impulses that it can relax,” he says, indicating why something as demanding as driving can lull you to sleep.

Given the number of kilometres driven and the number of traffic accidents, the risk can seem very small to drivers – and statistically that’s true. It’s just that the consequences tend to be extremely serious.

Docent Matúš Šucha from the psychology department of Palacký University in Olomouc

Matúš Štucha


Rest and planning

According to the experts, there is no medical cure for microsleep - the only way to avoid it is by getting enough rest. “The ideal thing is to stop, put the seat back and sleep for 15 minutes, say,” Karel Mulač explains how a driver should behave if he is very tired or has just woken up from microsleep.

Of course, it’s essential to stop in a safe place, which can be a problem. “Many people who have been in this kind of accident tell us that they felt tired but the nearest exit or petrol station on the motorway was fifteen kilometres away, say. And the driver didn’t make it that far,” he says. Even so, he does not recommend stopping on the hard shoulder at all costs.

How to get the better of microsleep

1. Get enough rest before you drive
2. If you go to bed early, don’t drive late into the night
3. If you’re not a morning person, don’t drive at daybreak
4. Plan your journey well
5. Take regular breaks

6. Stop in a safe place and get some rest
7. Chat to your passenger
8. Have a cup of coffee, open the window, 
9. Don’t rely on safety assistance systems
10. The best assistant is a well-rested driver

“The basic advice for avoiding microsleep is to plan the journey properly. Drive at your usual speed, leave at the right time, take breaks. Some people don’t like driving in the morning, others don’t like driving at night – we should plan our trip accordingly,” Mulač explains.

There are various recommendations on what to do if you experience microsleep. Some people suggest doing some exercise, or having a coffee or an energy drink. These solutions usually work for a while, but the problem is that the fatigue can then come back even stronger. A mix of impulses can also help to a certain degree. More frequent breaks during a journey can be beneficial, or chatting to a passenger.

Driver Alert detects signs of fatigue in the driver and prompts the driver to take a break.

Docent Šucha also says that drivers should learn to recognise the signs of tiredness. “There is no universal advice on how to recognise tiredness. You need to be aware of yourself. Put simply, it’s good when drivers actually think about tiredness,” Šucha says, adding that people have a natural tendency to ignore fatigue. “We are subconsciously trained to perform intensively and to ignore fatigue for a certain time,” he says.

The driver himself is the best assistant

There is also no reliable scientific method for detecting tiredness. “There are no reliable non-invasive methods for detecting tiredness. Things like EEG do not really work and would be inconvenient for drivers,” says Šucha. These days, cars have various fatigue detection functions but, according to Šucha, these usually only warn drivers when the level of tiredness has passed a certain threshold. Before that point, steering wheel movement sensors or cameras in the car cannot reliably recognise fatigue.


When microsleep actually occurs, even traditional assistance systems that help drivers in standard situations will not necessarily save him. “Let’s take a hypothetical situation, where a lane keeping assistance system keeps a car on a nice straight road between fields with a driver experiencing microsleep,” Karel Mulač says, setting the scene. “The driver wakes up – nothing has happened and he continues on his way. A few kilometres later he’s on a windy road in a forest and falls asleep again. Instead of the car leaving the road and going into a field with minimal consequences, the car could collide with a tree,” he explains.

Even so, in some situations a ŠKODA can save a driver experiencing microsleep. Cars equipped with the Emergency Assist system can stop themselves if necessary and switch on the hazard lights. The system is activated automatically if the driver is incapacitated: first it emits a warning signal for the driver, then the car initiates a short swerve. If the driver still does not respond, a car with a DSG gearbox can automatically stop. One way or another, advanced modern assistance systems are nothing more than a good helper, and to work effectively they need one thing – a well-rested and alert driver.

The most reliable safety features will help you tremendously, yet in the end, you are the most important safety feature of them all. Because you care.

You can find lots of safe driving advice in this article.