- Messaging others while in a sleep state is called "sleep texting"
- The digital-age trend is similar to behaviors like sleepwalking, doctors say
- For adults, the habit can be embarrassing but also easily laughed off
- Sleep texting can be more problematic for adolescents, who need uninterrupted sleep
If you have a smartphone, you may have felt the embarrassment of sending a private message to the wrong person or having autocorrect fail you at just the wrong time.
But some people experience a different kind of messaging mishap, one they may not even remember doing. And no, they're not drunk-dialing.
While hard data is lacking on this cultural trend, the anecdotal evidence has been mounting over the past few years. Twitter users regularly recount the loopy messages they've sent with the hashtag #sleeptexting. "There are texts sent from my phone at 5am that I do not recall sending," said one tweet. Another said, "I should stop sleeping next to my phone."
Others post Twitpics and Instagram photos showing their bizarre or garbled messages, some of which are more gibberish than actual words. One woman told CNN affiliate WQAD last year that she had a sleep-texting disorder.
Whereas some people might "get up and go get something out of the refrigerator" while in a state of sleep, said Dr. Jim Fulop, the corporate medical director for OhioHealth Sleep Services, others "grab their smartphone, which is right next to them, and they may text or do other things."
The idea of unlocking a smartphone, opening a texting app and then typing something while asleep may sound far-fetched, but the "sleep-texting" term is a little misleading. It's more like "half-asleep" texting, as doctors describe it as a state of rest where a person isn't fully awake.
"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, that's kind of the way that I look at it."
Unlike sleepwalking, which can be dangerous, sleep-texting tends to be a habit that can be easily laughed off.
Kayla Potega, 23, saved one of her sleep texts to her boyfriend because "it was so outrageous," she said. Potega, a healthy-living blogger in Rockford, Illinois, first noticed she was sleep-texting a few years ago. She said she rarely does it but when she does, she seems to only text her boyfriend.
"I don't know (why it happens)," Potega said, although she has a theory that its root may be her desire to communicate whatever she'd been dreaming about.
"I think it's driven by the fact that I want to tell (my boyfriend) these dreams, but I'm still kind of asleep, so I just reach for the phone and text him regardless of what it is, and I have no recollection of doing it all," Potega said. "The last one, I remember I was trying to give him some sort of advice ... It ended up being something like, 'just because your brain is a cast iron skillet, doesn't mean your body is.'"
Here are some other recent examples of sleep texts, as posted on Twitter and Instagram:
Fulop and Harris say younger generations appear to be more susceptible to sleep-texting. For young professionals, sometimes their jobs require them to respond to texts and e-mails late into the night.
And teens, "they're texting constantly," Fulop said. "They feel they can spend the middle of the night communicating with their friends; it's part of their behavior. ... They don't intend to text, but they sleep-text because they wake up confused, they grab (their phone) and they're off mumbling in the text message."
Dr. Elizabeth Dowdell, a professor of pediatric nursing at Villanova University's College of Nursing, heard the same thing as she was researching Internet risk behaviors and the victimization of children and adolescents.
"I think 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," Dowdell said. "What we're seeing now is younger people experiencing this."
Adults can typically shrug off sleep-texting with a laugh or an apology, but there could be greater consequences for adolescents. Texting is interrupting their sleep at an age when they need it most, and they could be more vulnerable to thier unintentional oversharing being posted for others to see.
If you're a sleep texter or afraid of becoming one, the easiest and best solutions are the most obvious: Turn off your phone, set your passcode lock or place it on the other side of the room so it's not within easy reach.