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Sleeptexting Can Have Serious Health Consequences

More and more Americans are finding it harder and harder to detach themselves from their electronics. Smartphones, tablets, and other portable devices tether us to our friends, family, and, oftentimes, our jobs. The constant barrage of emails, texts, Facebook alerts, and Twitter messages can be a deluge of information both important and frivolous. With these high tech umbilical cords binding people to all of the connections in their lives, can any respite be found? It seems the answer is no, as many people are beginning to experience the embarrassment of sending text messages to contacts in their phone while they are asleep. Yes, while they are asleep! While sleeptexting is a relatively new phenomenon it has some doctors and sleep experts worried about the possible deleterious consequences it may have on individual and public health in America.

Allied Health

How are people experiencing sleeptexting?

An article written by Kayleigh Roberts for The Atlantic communicated the experiences of three people, Casey Vandeventer (31 years old), Alex Thielen (22), and Geo Santistevan (26), with sleeptexting. Vandeventer's experience involved texting her friend the name of her dead father. She said that she "woke up with the phone in [her] hands, still in text position. [She] felt a little embarrassed at first, wondering how she could explain this to [her] friend."

For both Thielen and Santistevan, the situation was a bit more embarrassing. Thielen received a text message from a former boyfriend. After a bit of a back and forth he stopped communicating, and after sending one more text Thielen kept her phone by her until she went to sleep. Upon waking up in the morning Thielen noticed that he sent another text to her, and that she had replied to it, requesting that they meet up. This text was the antithesis to how she really felt: "I never wanted to see him, and still don't, but I think subconsciously, I still partially do, so my subconscious loved the idea." While she knew it was a bad idea, the part of Thielen that was still attached to her ex reached out to contact him while she was asleep. Santistevan also texted someone he was interested in, but his message was not as clear. He, like Thielen, left his phone near his bed. Sometime during the night he grabbed it and preceded to text a woman that he was attracted to, but the message was garbled. "The words were real words, just badly misspelled."

These stories may just seem like they are about semi-socially awkward moments, but there are more dangerous implications to sleeptexting that have medical experts worried.

"To sleep: perchance to dream"

The most important hours of rest occur during REM sleep. Most of the time spent dreaming happens during REM sleep, and this period of the night is crucial to the overall health of an individual. According to the National Institute of Health, the areas of the brain that are involved with learning are stimulated during this time. Lessons learned through the day are also reinforced in the brain at this time. Doctors have conducted studies that show that people deprived of REM sleep have trouble recalling certain skills they were taught during their day.

People who are sleeptexting tend to do it during REM sleep, and because of this "[t]hey are not getting the deep sleep, or the rapid eye movement sleep, which is really critical to higher brain function," according to sleep expert Dr. Joseph Werber. Losing sleep does more to the body than just making people feel tired and cranky in the mornings before a cup of coffee. Prolonged sleep deprivation can lead to problems such as weight gain, hypertension, heart disease, anxiety, depression, immune system issues, and high blood pressure.

Dr. Michael Gelb, a clinical professor at New York University's College of Dentistry, and a few of his colleagues are beginning to study the phenomenon in order to understand if this is a growing disease, or if it is just happening to a small percentage of people who may be too attached to others, too stressed, or too dependent on the electronic devices in their lives. So far the evidence shows that younger individuals are more prone to have an incidence of sleeptexting "because they're pretty much attached to the phone like an appendage" and "[i]t's just a part of their lives. This is all they know, this is what they grew up with."

People who take medications, or sleep aids may find themselves more prone to sleeptexting. Individuals who have elevated levels of stress in their lives, or are suppressing or dealing with recent trauma may also reach out through sleeptexting.

What can be done?

When Vendeventer sent the text containing her dead father's name, she sent it to a friend who happened to be a therapist who advised her "not [to] keep [her] phone that close when [she] slept, for fear that a more harmful sleeptext might escape." For Vendeventer, missing her father is what helped trigger the late night text. Thielen, on the other hand, was dealing with a number of contributing factors, including having started a new job the month prior and starting a new sleep schedule to enable her to rise early in order to arrive on time to work. She called a few friends over the night of her sleeptext to talk about her stress, and they ended up "drinking more wine than [they] should have." This could have exacerbated the situation, as Dr. Gelb said that quality of sleep, what people have to drink, and the level of stress in their lives can contribute to sleeptexting.

Medication may also play a role, as people who have trouble falling asleep may resort to aids such as Ambien. According to Gelb, drugs like these can make the situation worse as people who take them may not remember what they do while on it.

While the studies of sleeptexting are still in the early stages, there are some things that people can do to try and keep it from happening. Turning off electronic devices before going to bed is one, and banishing them from the bedroom is another. Curtailing any late night alcohol consumption is a good remedy, as well as curbing any reliance on sleep aids. Speaking to a professional, such as a psychologist, about any stress or personal trauma might also help alleviate the problems that bring about the urge to sleeptext.

Sources:

5 Experts Answer: Is Lack of Sleep Bad for Health? Amanda Chan, LiveScience, April 20, 2011, http://www.livescience.com/35629-5-experts-answer-trouble-sleeping-health.html

Doctors Reporting More Cases Of "Sleep Texting," Paula Ebben, CBS Boston, September 20, 2013, http://boston.cbslocal.com/2013/09/20/doctors-report-more-cases-of-sleep-texting/

Sleeptexting Is the New Sleepwalking, Kayleigh Roberts, The Atlantic, October 16, 2013, http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/10/sleeptexting-is-the-new-sleepwalking/280591/

Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep, National Institute of Health, May 21, 2007, http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/brain_basics/understanding_sleep.htm

About the Author:

Jamar Ramos has been writing poetry and fiction for many years, and earned his bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. For the last three years, Mr. Ramos switched to producing blog posts for CBSSports.com and writing professionally as an independent contributor for a number of Internet sites. His creative works have been featured in The Bohemian and The San Matean. He now contributes articles for OnlineDegrees.com, OnlineColleges.com, and AlliedHealthWorld.com.