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Sleep Texting?


When Dr. Kate Murdoch, from Washington and Lee University, published the results of her sleep deprivation study, the key finding was that a higher number of daily texts was associated with more sleep problems in college freshmen. She cited 2 main potential causes for this connection:

  1. Students feel pressured to respond immediately to texts, no matter the time of day or night.
  2. Students sleep with their phone nearby and they are therefore awakened by incoming alerts. (Science Daily)

Dr. Murdoch’s findings on sleep are especially significant in light of the well-documented compromises in sleep that students experience throughout college but especially in the first year.  Studies have shown that 70% of college students receive less than the eight recommended hours of sleep.

And now there is a new sleep disorder that is being recognized: sleep texting!  Sleep texting is loosely defined as reading and responding to text messages while asleep.  It is an abnormal sleep behavior similar to sleep walking. There isn’t a lot of hard data on this new disorder but there is a lot of anecdotal evidence and it has become a growing concern among doctors struggling with a sleep-deprived population.  Younger generations appear to be more susceptible to this disorder according to Dr. Jim Fulop, the corporate medical director for OhioHealth Sleep Services.  Young professionals may be required to be immediately responsive for their jobs; teens are constantly texting. (2013, Hare)

Dr. Mike Howell, Fairview Sleep Center at University of Minnesota Medical Center, estimates that as many as half of his young patients who report sleep problems have sleep texted.   He says that some people have even sleep-texted 911, not realizing what they did.

“It’s like your brain is on autopilot,” explained Dr. Shelby Harris, director of behavioral sleep medicine at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. “Think about the rate at which people are texting nowadays, and most people sleep right next to their phones, so if they wake up, it’s another automatic behavior… This is sort of a form of sleepwalking.” (2013, Hare)

Sleep texting typically happens within the first two hours of slumber – often when someone falls asleep in the middle of a text conversation.  Sleep texters often forget the messages they deliver while asleep, or half asleep, and the messages are often jumbled and have misspellings.  And although sleep texting isn’t as dangerous as sleep walking it is often embarrassing. Additionally it disrupts the much needed rest preventing people from reaping the benefits of a full night of uninterrupted sleep.  (2014, Cool)

“…For many adolescents and young adults, technology has provided us another avenue of sleep walking, or talking in our sleep.  People have answered the phone, the good old-fashioned landline in their sleep.  That’s not particularly new,” said Dr. Elizabeth Dowdell, a professor of pediatric nursing at Villanova’s College of Nursing.  “What we’re seeing now is younger people experiencing this.” (2013, Hare) Some of Dr. Dowd’s students have admitted they are disturbed by their late night texting behavior, but because sleep texting is unconscious it is a difficult habit to break.

If you are a sleep texter, the easiest solution is to turn off your phone or put it where it is not in easy reach when you go to sleep!  (2013, Hare)


Science Daily (2013, Sept. 26). Study links heavy texting, sleep problems in college freshmen. Retrieved on April 22, 2014.

RedOrbit Staff. (2013, Nov. 15) Technology in the Bedroom disrupts  Teens’ Sleep. ReOrbit.  Retrieved on April 23, 2014.

Hare, B. (2013, Feb. 22) Don’t recall that message?  Maybe you’re ‘sleep texting’. CNN.com. Retrieved on April 22, 2014.

Cool, LC. (2014, March 12) “Sleep texting” may be the newest sleep disorder. Healthline. Retrieved on April 22, 2014.

Shah, A. (2013, Dec. 6) A new disorder is plaguing teenagers: Sleep texting. Retrieved on April 22, 2014.

Kirkova, D. (2013, Sept. 27) Struggling to sleep? Turn off the phone! Excess texting linked to insomnia in students. Retrieved on April 22, 2014.