Sleep texting: Chatting after mindnight
Published: Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 8, 2012 11:02
When Shenika Bourne argues with her boyfriend, she gets her way. The arguments often take text form. Heated cyber exchanges last well into the night, even when Bourne sleeps— the only time she lets up.
On a recent night, Bourne and her boyfriend debated the legitimacy of the TLC show, "Extreme Couponing," where crazed shoppers plot their way to extreme savings. Bourne's boyfriend doubted a teenage boy would purchase maxi pads just because coupons made it free. Bourne believes every word of the show, and her rhetoric backed it up.
Until, later that night, Bourne claimed to send a text in her sleep.
"Me and my boyfriend were going back-and-forth, and I somehow managed to let him get his way," Bourne said. "I usually fight to the end of it. I woke up to a text from him that said, ‘You agreed with me last night.' I was like, ‘No I didn't.' Then he forwarded me the message and I was like, ‘Damn.'"
Bourne, a senior majoring in social work, is one of many students who claim to wake up in the morning shocked to find they have sent text messages, yet don't remember doing so.
Joanna Salapska-Gelleri, an assistant professor in the department of social and behavioral sciences who specializes in memory, says "sleep texters" are actually not asleep.
"Sleep texting is kind of a misnomer," Salapska-Gelleri said. "These students who claim to do it are not asleep. You are in a light and shallow sleep. You are so in tune with the beep of your phone that it becomes an automatic response to look at it when it beeps. The beep brings you to a non-sleep level of consciousness, where you respond, but don't remember what you said."
Salapska-Gelleri compares it to driving on the highway, nearly missing the exit, and forgetting how you got there at all.
Kristin Milligan, a senior majoring in journalism, texts in and out of sleep.
She falls asleep, wakes up to the buzz of her phone, sends a text, and goes back under again.
"I wake up for good in the morning and I see a half-sent text and I don't remember texting at all that late at night," Milligan said. "I feel really dumb. It's not even garbage or mangled words. I wake up to see that I formed grammatically correct sentences."
After the sent text, the brain falls quickly back to sleep, and it has no time to retain the activity.
"These kids grab their phones, respond and go back very quickly into sleep mode," Salapska-Gelleri said. "When you sleep, information you learn through the day consolidates. You need time for that to happen. Here, the action doesn't get consolidated. It just goes away and is forgotten. So, it isn't stored in long-term memory."
Bourne didn't mean to let her boyfriend have his way.
But, maybe, deep in her subconscious, she felt sympathy.
"Depending on what the person is thinking about or dreaming about leading up to the text, the responses might be nonsensical," Salapska-Gelleri said. "You are in control, but the inhibitory part of your brain, which relates to your ability to sensor yourself, might be asleep. You may disclose something you wouldn't say when you are fully awake and conscious."
Experts won't label sleep texting as an official disorder, not until it's proven to be so disruptive that it limits every day means to survival.
However, the constant interruptions during sleep bring severe consequences.
Salapska-Gelleri says that when you awaken throughout the night, you never enter REM, the most important sleep stage. A routine lack of REM sleep can lead to hallucinations and delusions.
When she winds down before bed, Bourne scrolls through her texts from the day and scans her Facebook feed.
Milligan nervously braces for the latest Twitter updates, afraid sleep will leave her left out of the loop.
Both won't admit to an addiction, and neither see their behavior as a problem.
Still, Salapska-Gellerri offers a cure: Turn the phone off.
Bourne will have none of it.
In fact, by refusing to turn her phone off at night, Bourne acts as a hero.
"It boils down to not wanting to say, ‘I'll talk to you later,'" Bourne said. "My friend might go out and I want to know she is okay. I want that final, ‘I'm good. I'm safe' text. If something happens, I'm there."
Milligan's phone will have to let her down before she turns it off.
"The only way I'll turn it off is if I had a bad battery," Milligan said.