Sleep Disorders

Updated 23 January 2019

Don't remember sending that text? You might be sleep texting

Being constantly online and replying to messages has led numerous young adults to text in their sleep. Some even send nonsensical texts messages while asleep.

Texting, tweeting, posting, instagramming and "sliding into DMs" – we find ourselves entangled in a web of communication on a daily basis.

Sometimes you may even find yourself speaking to the same person, on different platforms, about different things, at the same time.

Our hands seem to never quite detach from our social media devices, and according to a new study, sometimes not even being asleep can stop that.

Walking and talking while asleep is common in children, but is mostly outgrown by the time they reach adulthood.

Sleep deprivation

Professor of paediatric nursing Dr Elizabeth Dowdell found that some college students are taking talking in their sleep a step further by sleep texting.

The article, published in the Journal of American College Health, reported that students who sleep with their smartphones close by are “partially” awoken by the sound of a notification or a message coming through. We say “partially” because while these students might still be consciously asleep, their motor skills are awoken by the sound of various message alerts coming through on their mobile devices.

The behaviour of constantly being online and immediately replying to messages kicks in, and this then leads them to texting in their sleep. And even worse, some students fall asleep with their mobile devices still in their hands and end up sending nonsensical text messages.

The study found that this kind of behaviour may be a result of partial sleep deprivation – and that it can further contribute to a decrease in sleep quality. Being a college student means that attending class and completing assignments, while maintaining an active social life can lead to missing out on valuable sleep. 

Dr Dowdell states, “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. What we're seeing now is younger people experiencing this."


Dr Shelby Harris, a clinical psychologist that specialises in cognitive behaviour therapy, in an interview with CNN, adds, “It's like your brain is on autopilot. 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 behaviour. This is sort of a form of sleepwalking; that's kind of the way that I look at it."

We might laugh it off as something silly, but not getting enough sleep can lead to serious health issues down the line. The study notes that not getting enough sleep and suffering from sleep deprivation can lead to dangerous accidents, suffering from psychological issues as well as physical health problems.

Researchers suggest that people who find themselves sleep texting should consider putting their phones on silent or switching them off completely while they’re sleeping. If having your phone close by is still too much of a temptation, consider leaving it in another room where it is out of sight and earshot.  

Image credit: iStock 


Ask the Expert

Sleep disorders expert

Dr Alison Bentley is a general practitioner who has consulted in sleep medicine and sleep disorders, in both adults and children of all ages, for almost 30 years. She also researches and publishes on a number of sleep-related topics both in formal research journals and lay publications including as editor of Sleep Matters, an educational newsletter on sleep disorders for doctors.

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