A couple of days ago, a former journalist unfortunately lost his life in a motorcycle crash.
I never had the honour of meeting him, but the heart always sinks when anyone loses their life in such a manner. My condolences go out to his family and friends.
Two weeks before that, I was on a three day ride with BMW Motorrad Malaysia.
The rides after lunch were always the most tiring. The combination of a full tummy together with riding under the hot tropical sun makes the body feel lethargic. Being sleepy is simply natural because the body feels a drop in energy levels in the afternoon.
A couple of weeks before that, an industry colleague of mine reported not remembering some of the last few kilometres in a recent 1,000km in 24 hours challenge organised by a local motorcycle brand.
It freaked him to his bone how he was able to take corners.
“I seriously don’t remember the ride past the Sungai Buloh Jejantas,” said the friend who I shall not name.
But this is not a new phenomena. In fact it affects many drivers and riders.
Not remembering the last kilometres is part of something called micro-sleep. And it is one of the most dangerous things a biker can experience without realising it.
According to The Sleep Foundation, micro-sleep “refers to very short periods of sleep that can be measured in seconds, rather than minutes or hours.”
A report on micro-sleep by the BBC cited a statistic published by a UK based road safety charity called Brake.
According to that report, 1,000 drivers were interviewed, and of that 45% of men admitted to experiencing micro-sleep while driving, as did 22% of women.
Micro-sleep is something many of us would have experienced but most likely do not remember.
And how would you know if you have experienced micro-sleep?
“Your eyelids start drooping and you start to lose contact with reality,” says Professor Jim Horne, director of Loughborough University’s Sleep Research Centre.
“You’re asleep for a few seconds, then wake up, often with a jolt.”
Many of us have experienced a sudden head jerk, and that is how you know that you have experienced micro-sleep.
But why don’t you remember it?
Professor Horne, who has studied driver tiredness for 10 years, says that for the brain to remember you just had a nap, sleep has to last beyond a minute or two.
“With micro-sleep, you are just left with a feeling of not knowing if you are coming or going.”
People who work in shifts and highs stress work conditions are more likely to experience MicroSleep.
For us bikers, pushing ourselves too hard while touring or rushing to reach a faraway destination can also cause sleep deprivation.
And micro-sleep is among the worst things that could happen to a biker or a driver.
But being tired or being sleep deprived is not the only causes of micro-sleep.
The Sleep Foundation also reports that a person who is fully rested too can experience micro-sleep.
A report by the Foundation states, “people who are fully rested can experienced micro sleep, for example while doing something repetitive or tedious.
Experiencing micro sleep does not necessarily indicate that you are sleep deprived or have an underlying sleep disorder.”
Riding or driving on a highway can get boring. Especially at monotonous speeds.
It is always important to pace your ride. Never go more than an hour without taking a break.
Simply stopping for a couple of minutes is good enough to reset your system and to give a different stimulus to your brain, thus keeping you awake.
According to the UK’s Department of Transport, 20% of accidents in that country happen on dull, major roads such as long stretches of highway.
But that is not an excuse for any sort of dangerous driving or riding, since you will feel sleepy way before micro-sleep kicks in.
So the best thing to do is to park and freshen up, then get on your way again.
With the governments around the world talking about reopening borders again, it is only a matter of time before we get on our bikes for long distance riding again.
The next time you are riding and feel sleepy, remember this article and take a break.