In most cases, people wake up with no memory of the messages they have sent to any number of unintended and sometimes unfavourable contacts. While sometimes almost harmless, the new trend, recently termed as “sleep texting” is quickly becoming a world-wide phenomenon that is expected to soon affect much of the population as smartphone usage becomes higher and so easily accessible that picking up your smartphone is almost “automatic” in a sense, as it invades our subconscious’ unknowingly. According to a new study, it could be becoming a real problem for youth but what exactly is the cause of sleep texting and how can we prevent it?
As reported by medical company, Health Line, sleep texting forms part of a category of behaviours called parasomnia that can involve things like walking, talking, or texting while asleep. According to Metro, sleep texting is believed to occur when a person enters REM sleep, which is a stage of sleep that is characterised by rapid eye movement and dreaming which in turn allows the individual to send a message without even technically thinking about it. While professionals on the topic aren’t currently 100 percent sure what the official cause of this type of parasomnia is, they have otherwise noticed that people who tend to use their phone just before they fall asleep may be at a higher risk to falling into the sleep-texting state.
According to Australian Sleep Disorder director David Cunnington, sleep texting the office had become more common as developments like fingerprint and facial recognition technology made it easier to unlock a phone while half-asleep. Once again, Cunnington also confirmed that the nature and tone of sleep texting messages could vary, depending on someone’s level of wakefulness in different areas of the brain.
“Most commonly it is stuff that just doesn’t make sense, someone has reached for the phone and in an automatic way just sort of pressed the buttons,” Dr Cunnington said. “There can however be variants of sleepwalking and sleep talking with a bit of overlap with confusional arousals,” he continued.
“This is where the more primitive parts of the brain involved in automatic functioning can wake up, but the more sophisticated parts of the brain involved in functions like social filtering are still asleep.”
Additionally, a recently published study in the Journal of American College Health found that sleep texting is a growing trend among young people in particular. “Sleep texting occurs when an individual responds to or sends a text message electronically while in a sleep state. The beep or buzz of the cell phone indicating that a call has come in awakens the sleeper, who instinctively reaches over and responds to the message. This action can occur once or multiple times during the sleep cycle, adversely affecting the quality and the duration of the individual’s sleep,” explained the study.
Furthermore, a number of researchers at Pennsylvania’s Villanova University conducted another study where they surveyed 372 students, and asked them several questions about their phone use and daily habits, the quality of their sleep, and how the two could potentially relate to one another. The results from the survey discovered that 93 percent of students admitted to keeping their phone with them at night, and even more shockingly, the study discovered that a quarter of the respondents said they had an experience of texting in their sleep.
“The lack of memory is not surprising as sleep research has found that people awakened after sleeping more than a few minutes are usually unable to recall the last few minutes before they fall asleep,” the study’s lead author Elizabeth B. Dowdell said in a statement.
Although avoiding sending these types of messages is relatively easy, researchers have recommended that everyone – not just students – would make it a habit to no longer sleep with their phone under the pillow or generally in a close vicinity, aka basically anywhere that you can grab it without having to move or think considerably. As for the safest option? Researchers suggested leaving phones and other technology on a desk or somewhere across the room, which would allow an individual to still respond to alarms, but not necessarily be distracted by the technology so easily.