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Sleep Texting: Is It Possible to Send Text Messages While Asleep?

Behavior May Represent a Preventable Parasomnia

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Updated February 27, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

It may sound strange, but is it possible to send text messages with your cell phone while you remain asleep? What might explain sleep texting? How might it relate to other abnormal sleep behaviors called parasomnias?

Sleep texting refers to the use of a cell phone to send text messages while remaining asleep. It occurs most often when effortless access to the phone exists, such as might occur when sleeping with the phone in bed. Access to the phone on a nearby nightstand might also prompt the behavior.

Most incidents of sleep texting are a response to a recently received text message rather than sending out umprompted messages. The chime or alerting sound that would signify a new text message during wakefulness may similarly prompt our attention during sleep. Replying with a text message may be an almost automatic behavior. Unfortunately, during sleep we are not quite as skillful as we might be during the day.

Though we might be able to recognize the text sound and coordinate a response by manipulating the phone, this may not be without errors. Although brief messages may make sense, complete gibberish may also be the result. The text message we send may be non-sensical, much like sleep talking (or somniloquy) may not always make sense. Some responses may be appropriate while others are confused. The actions of the affected person may not be recalled later.

What Explains Sleep Texting?

The most important thing to realize is that your entire brain may not be asleep or awake at the same time. Indeed, the part of your brain that allows you to be awake or conscious may be turned off. Meanwhile, the areas that permit you to coordinate movement and send text messages might be working. Since your entire brain is not in the same state, you can have distinct levels of consciousness occurring simultaneously. This may result in semi-conscious or semi-purposeful behaviors. When these abnormal behaviors occur in the setting of sleep, they are called parasomnias.

Parasomnias include common things like sleepwalking or sleep talking. They might also include sleep terrors, sleep eating, and other complex behaviors like driving or sex. In some people, the ability to act out one's dreams results in REM behavior disorder. Similarly, sleep texting might be considered one of these behaviors that can occur in sleep.

How to Prevent Sleep Texting

Teenagers seem to be more susceptible to sleep texting. This observation may be biased by the fact that they more often use text messages to communicate during the day in general. Teens may even use texts excessively, so that it becomes an important component of their daily lives. In addition, teens are more likely to fall asleep later (as part of delayed sleep phase syndrome) and the use of the cell phone may pass some of this time early in the night. They may also be more likely keep their cell phones close to them at night, both for late-night communication as well as to preserve their privacy.

Ideally, no one should sleep with a phone. This can be disruptive to your sleep environment, either through text messages or phone calls. In addition, it might keep you awake as you chat with others, play games, or surf the internet on smart phones.

Anyone who has a problem with sleep texting might also benefit from observing better sleep guidelines. In particular, it will be important to eliminate sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation may fragment your ability to sleep soundly, so that the overlapping states of consciousness occur more easily. In addition, the use of Ambien or other hypnotic medications should be avoided because these might affect your memory and awareness while allowing you to perform complex behaviors, including texting.

Most people will find that simply removing the cell phone from the bedroom is enough to stop those errant text messages from being sent. It will also help you to sleep better and wake refreshed.

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