You’ve heard of sleepwalking and sleep-talking…but have you ever heard of sleep-texting?! No kidding—in this age of the ubiquitous smartphone, some people really do compose text messages, update Facebook and/or add pins on Pinterest while asleep.
Sleep-texting combines social media with the physiological phenomenon behind sleepwalking and sleep-eating (in which sleeping people consume sometimes copious amounts of food), said David Volpi, MD, a sleep specialist, otolaryngology surgeon and founder of the sleep/snoring clinic Eos Sleep. This disorder is so new that there are no official studies on it, and experts don’t know how common it is—but Dr. Volpi said that he is seeing an increasing number of embarrassed and exhausted sleep-texting men, women and teens in his practice.
THE NIGHTTIME WORLD OF THE “TEXTUALLY ACTIVE”
Sleep-texting is a form of parasomnia, meaning a sleep disorder in which a person exhibits strange behavior while asleep. “Much like sleepwalking and other similar sleep disorders, sleep-texting occurs during the rapid eye movement or REM sleep stage,” said Dr. Volpi. REM sleep, which accounts for about 20% to 25% of your total sleep time per night, is the stage during which you are closest to being conscious. REM sleep is when dreaming occurs, and it is necessary in order to experience completely restorative sleep. “Studies show that the brainwave patterns recorded during the REM stage are the same as those recorded during the day. So if you’re in the habit of responding immediately to the steady beeps and blips of a cell phone during the day, your motor nerves may start to act similarly during the REM phase,” he added.
At first, sleep-texting may sound funny—but the consequences can be severe. For instance, sleep-texters may send embarrassing gibberish or cogent but inappropriate text messages to their bosses…or tweet confessions that they would rather have kept private…or post sexy photos that they would otherwise never dream of sharing in cyberspace.
In addition, sleep-texting can be dangerous to your health. Dr. Volpi said, “Parasomnias interfere with the ability to get enough restorative rest because your brain isn’t able to move on properly from REM sleep to the next stage of sleep. Poor sleep, in turn, increases the risk for high blood pressure, headaches, weight gain, daytime sleepiness, irritability and concentration problems.”
People who are most likely to sleep-text or sleep-post include those who text or post heavily during waking hours…text or post just before bedtime…are under immense stress…are prone to other sorts of parasomnias, such as sleepwalking…or have a family history of sleep disorders.
Currently there is no medication that can stop sleep-texting (and of course you wouldn’t want to try a drug as a first resort anyway). Here’s what Dr. Volpi recommended instead…
- Leave your phone in another room at night so its lights and sounds won’t trigger an automatic urge to respond. Let the bedroom be a place that’s just for sleep and sex. If you’ve been relying on the alarm function on your cell phone to wake you in the morning, get a regular alarm clock instead.
- Designate the hour or two before bed as phone-free and computer-free time…and stick to a consistent sleep schedule. These strategies help your body and brain understand when it’s time to shut down for the night.
- Reduce the stress that can contribute to parasomnias by regularly practicing a relaxation technique, such as meditation.
- If you absolutely must have a phone in the bedroom, make it a landline so that you won’t be able to use it to text…and position it as far from your bed as possible.
If these steps aren’t sufficient to put a halt to your sleep-texting, talk to your doctor. Parasomnias can be a warning sign of an underlying health problem—such as obstructive sleep apnea, gastroesophageal reflux, seizures or restless legs syndrome—that should be addressed. They also can be a side effect of medications that affect sleep (including, ironically, sleeping pills), in which case finding an alternative medication might put a halt to your sleep-texting. If the problem persists, a visit to a sleep specialist for a sleep test can help identify the root cause…and offer a solution to your sleep-texting.