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Posts Tagged ‘microsleep

The wise words of Wilse Webb, a prominent sleep researcher recently said.

  So, question of pose: How long can humans stay awake?

The experiemental answer to this question is 264 hours (about 11 days).  In 1965, Randy Garder, a 17 year-old high school student, set this apparent world-record for a science fair. Several other normal research subjects have remained awake for eight to 10 days in carefully monitored experiments. None of these individuals experienced serious medical, neurological, physoiological or psychiatric problems.

  On the other hand, all of them showed progressive and significant deficits in concentration, motivation, perception and other higher mental processes as the duration of sleep deprivation increased. Nevertheless, all experimental subjects recovered to relative normality within one or two nights of recovery sleep.  Other anecdotal reports describe soldiers staying awake for four days in battle, or un-medicated patients with mania going without sleep for three to four days.

  The more difficult answer to this question revolves around the definition of “awake.” As mentioned above, prolonged sleep deprivation in normal subjects induces altered stated of consciousness ( often described as “microsleep”), numerous brief episodes of overwhelming sleep, and loss of cognitive and motor functions. We all know the dangerous, drowsy driver, and have heard about drowsy flyers crashing planes because they fell asleep while flying. RandyGardner was “awake” but basically cognitively dysfunctional at the end of his ordeal.

 In certain rare human medical disorders, the question of how long people can remain awake raises other surprising answers, and more questions. Morvan’s fibrillary chorea or Morvan’s Syndrome is characterized by muscle twitchings, pain, excessive sweating, weight loss, periodic hallucinations, and severe loss of sleep ( agrypnia ). Michel Jouvet and his colleagues in Lyon, France, studies a 27 year-old man with this disorder and found he had virtually no sleep over a period of several months. During that time he did not feel sleepy or tried and did not show any disorders of mood, memory, or anxiety. Nevertheless, nearly everynight between 9:00 and 11:00 p.m., he experienced a 20 to 60-minute period of auditory, visual, olfactory and somesthetic (sense of touch ) hallucinations, as well as pain and vasoconstriction in his fingers and toes. In recent investigations, Morvan’s Syndrome has been attributed to serum antibodies directed again by specific potassium (K+) channels in cell and nerve membranes.

  So, to return to the orginal question, “How long can humans stay awake?” the ultimate remains unclear. Despite studies, there are no reports that sleep deprivation per se has killed any humab ( excluding accidents and so forth ). Indeed, the U.S. Departmend of Defense has offered research funding for the goal of sustaining a fully awake, fully functional “24/7” soldier, sailor, or airman. Future warriors will face intese, around the clock fighting for weeks at a time. Will bioengineering eventually produce genetically cloned soldiers and citizens with a variant of Morvan’s Syndrome who need no sleep but remain effective and happy? I hope not. A good nights sleep is one of life’s blessings.

As Coleridge wrote years ago, “Oh sleep! It is a  gentle thing, beloved from pole to pole.”

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  Microsleep, ever heard of it? Do you what it means? Wonder if it has ever happened to you? I use to get it when I was working night shifts, and my circadian clock was still working on daytime hours. I would have a 45 miunute drive home, and there would be times when I would get home, and only then I realized, ‘Wow how did get here…so fast?!’ …puzzeling, but then there were times the thudding of the relectors would bring me to realization that I was starting to doze off. At the same time I felt like my eyes were open the whole time, and that’s because they were!

A Microsleep; is an episode of sleep lasting from a fraction of a second up to several seconds. It often occurs as a result of sleep deprivation, metal fatigue, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, or hypersomnia. People who experience excessive daytime sleepiness are at high risk for Mircrosleep episodes.

Microsleeps can occur at any time, typically without significant warning. In the middle of even lively conversations, the onset of a Microsleep episode can cause sufferers to ‘suddenly’ lose sync in a conversation.

Microsleeps becomes extremely dangerous when occurring during situations which demand continual alertness, such as driving a motor vehicle or working with heavy machinery. People who experience microsleeps usually remain unaware of them, instead believing themselves to have been awake the whole time, or feeling a sensation of ‘spaceing out.’ One example is called “gap driving”: from the perspective of the driver, he or she was driving a car, and then suddenly realizes that several secondes have passed bu unnoticed, or like in my case 45 minutes!

Sleep is on the rise of awareness; so much is starting to show how the effects of sleep really play on your health, and that’s mental health, physical health, and how much we take it for granted. We only have 24 hours in a day, an we think that there is so much that needs to be done in such a short tmie, and that  cut comes out of our sleep.


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