Publication Date



Even when it is critical to stay awake, such as when driving, sleep deprivation weakens one's ability to do so by substantially increasing the propensity for microsleeps. Microsleeps are complete lapses of consciousness but, paradoxically, are associated with transient increases in cortical activity. But do microsleeps provide a benefit in terms of attenuating the need for sleep? And is the neural response to microsleeps altered by the degree of homeostatic drive to sleep? In this study, we continuously monitored eye-video, visuomotor responsiveness, and brain activity via fMRI in 20 healthy subjects during a 20-min visuomotor tracking task following a normally-rested night and a sleep-restricted (4-h) night. As expected, sleep restriction led to an increased number of microsleeps and an increased variability in tracking error. Microsleeps exhibited transient increases in regional activity in the fronto-parietal and parahippocampal area. Network analyses revealed divergent transient changes in the right fronto-parietal, dorsal-attention, default-mode, and thalamo-cortical functional networks. In all subjects, tracking error immediately following microsleeps was improved compared to before the microsleeps. Importantly, post-microsleep recovery in tracking response speed was associated with hyperactivation in the thalamo-cortical network. The temporal evolution of functional connectivity within the frontal and posterior nodes of the default-mode network and between the right fronto-parietal and default-mode networks was associated with temporal changes in visuomotor responsiveness. These findings demonstrate distinct brain-network-level changes in brain activity during microsleeps and suggest that neural activity in the thalamo-cortical network may facilitate the transient recovery from microsleeps. The temporal pattern of evolution in brain activity and performance is indicative of dynamic changes in vigilance during the struggle to stay awake following sleep loss.


Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research

Document Type

Journal Article

Access Rights

ERA Access

Access may be restricted.