Move over sleepwalking and sleep-talking, there’s a new hi-tech sleep disorder in town that is gaining a lot of media attention.
It’s is a growing phenomenon psychologists and scholars attribute in part to society’s increased reliance on cell phones. Doctors who are studying sleep texting closely have characterized the disorder as a type of parasomnia, which is the name given to a group of sleep disorders that involve abnormal movements, behaviors, emotions, perceptions, and dreams. Some other common parasomnias include sleepwalking, teeth grinding, and bedwetting. According to Doctor Andrew Stiehm, a sleep specialist at Minneapolis-based Allina Health, many sleep disorders in this category occur when the part of the brain that controls motor skills becomes alert while the part of the brain that governs memory and judgment remains asleep.
Not surprisingly, sleep texting is most evident in adolescents and teens, the demographic many consider most attached to their cell phones. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, one in three teenagers sends more than 100 text messages a day, and at least four out of five teens said they sleep with their phone on or near their bed. Incidents of sleep texting have also been reported among young and middle-aged adults, although these are less common.
Of course, the potential for embarrassment as a result of subconsciously sleep texting is off the charts. I mean, sometimes human beings struggle with texting when they’re fully awake, whether it be accidentally sending a carefully crafted text to the wrong person or falling victim to the unfortunate (and sometimes hysterical) T9 mishap. Sleep texters have reported contacting exes, friends, family members, and even the local police. But the real issue here, as one sleep expert put it, is that technology has infiltrated the bedroom and impeded quality of sleep.
Josh Werber, a sleep expert at EOS Sleep Centers in New York, says sleep texting often occurs between 90 minutes and two hours into the sleeping process, preventing individuals from experiencing the restorative benefits of REM and the other deep stages of sleep. You may also recall our very own Head Sleep Geek Mark Quinn addressing this issue in a previous article about the importance of creating a relaxing sleep environment, in which he recommends keeping all electronics out of the bedroom if possible.
Fortunately, sleep texting is a problem that can easily be fixed. Most of the reports of sleep texting involve individuals who routinely charge their cell phones using an outlet located close to their beds. If you find yourself falling victim to sleep texting, try charging your phone in another room and see if that reduces or eliminates middle-of-the-night phone activity. If you absolutely cannot stand to be apart from your phone even while you sleep, some people have reported wearing mittens to bed in an attempt to keep their texting fingers at bay.