“Sleep-Texting”: Growing Phenomenon or Fiction?
“Baby u there? Need to tell somethin …” read the first message before it dissolved into gibberish. “U told me and i tell u … u harm …”
24-year-old Jessica Castillo of Italy, Texas found these messages to her boyfriend in her cell phone’s outbox one morning, according to this article by Yvonne Villarreal in today’s Toronto Star. The problem? They’d been sent late the previous night, and she didn’t remember writing them.
Cell phone users are reporting this phenomenon, dubbed “sleep-texting”, more and more frequently, although scientists and sleep professionals disagree on whether people are technically asleep when they send the messages, or awake but for too short a time to form a memory of the event.
Dr. Ron Kramer, who is a spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, thinks that sleep-texting is “perfectly possible,” saying:
“Texting for some of the younger generation is probably as ingrained as driving is for some people.”
But here’s something to consider: Castillo’s message to her boyfriend involved 11 different steps before she even started to type:
First, she had to select “Menu,” then “Messaging;” type “New,” then select “Multimedia message,” then punch the “Add” button and the “Add text,” before entering her garbled message. Afterwards, she had to press “OK” twice, scroll to “contacts,” find the email address on that contact, select it, and press “Send.”
Not an easy process, but considering that the average Internet-generation teen spends around two hours and 20 minutes a day texting, it’s highly likely that the process of preparing to send a text message has been committed to muscle memory. In a 2007 Teenage Research Unlimited online survey cited in the Star article, many young people reported sleeping next to their cell phones; one in six said they sent 10 or more texts per hour throughout the night. Jessica Castillo and her boyfriend rack up between 90 and 120 text messages a day!
How plausible is it, then, that Castillo performed those 11 text-sending steps while asleep? Not very, according to Scott Fromherz of the Westside Sleep Center in Oregon:
“The ‘sleep texter’ may have actually been awake, but had not formed new memories for the event,” says [Fromherz]… “There is a ‘built-in’ amnesia of sleep that occurs when the brain is briefly awakened for less than three minutes.”
Thus, a person might wake up in the middle of the night, text someone, go back to sleep and have no recollection of the activity the next morning.
So what’s the verdict? Were you conscious or not when you crafted that bizarre text sometime in the wee hours of the morning? According to this article, looking at the content of your middle-of-the-night mystery message can provide a clue, though if you’re racking up late-night text messages by the hundreds like Jessica Castillo, you’re probably just too sleep-deprived to remember!
In any case, if your message is gibberish, it’s possible you wrote it in your sleep, just as people have been known to walk, eat, and drive while completely asleep. But if the message makes sense, you probably wrote it while awake, only to fall asleep again before your brain could consolidate the event into memory.
Grinnell, R. (2008). “Sleep-Texting”: Growing Phenomenon or Fiction?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 13, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2008/06/15/sleep-texting-growing-phenomenon-or-fiction/