Back in June, contributor Renée M. Grinnell noted the growing phenomenon of sleep texting and questioned whether it was a legitimate concern or something else.
Now the New York Times brings us the story of a case of “sleep emailing” — someone not only composing multiple, coherent emails to people, but typing in account names and passwords in order to access their email account:
E-mailing while sleeping, however, upturns the previous understanding of the mind as essentially quiescent, absolved of a participating role. The Sleep Medicine article […] describes one woman’s e-mailing while sleeping as the first reported case of “complex nonviolent cognitive behavior.” It involved not just composing messages, but also navigating past two separate levels of password security to reach the e-mail software.
According to the article, the patient suffered from severe insomnia and was taking zolpidem, which is marketed under various brand names, the best known of which is Ambien. She decided on her own to increase her daily dose to 15 milligrams, from the 10 milligrams prescribed by her doctor, to counteract what she perceived as diminished efficacy of the drug over time.
Later, she received a call from a friend, asking about a strange e-mail message that the patient had sent the caller the previous night. She had no memory of having done so.
It might be a good time to go back to one possible explanation noted in the sleep texting article:
“The ‘sleep texter’ may have actually been awake, but had not formed new memories for the event. 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.
In other words, a person may be in a dissociative-like state where they are conscious, yet the brain — especially memory — isn’t functioning in the normally expected way. This may be a difference without meaning, in that if you did it while you thought you were “asleep,” you’d still consider it sleep-emailing (or in the earlier case, sleep-texting).
It’s still a rare phenomenon, so there are no treatments for such behavior. The NY Times article mentions Google’s “Mail Goggles,” which tries to prevent “drunk emailing” behavior late at night. Could such a tool also prevent sleep-emailing? If the person is awake (and simply never forms memories of the event), then Mail Goggles will likely be of no help — one will still be able to do the simple math problems (just as one can type in one’s password to access one’s email).
Short of physically locking one’s computer up at night (presumably keeping the key with one’s partner or in the car or something), there’s not a lot that can be done about sleep emailing. Let’s hope it doesn’t become as common as sleepwalking.
Read the full article: Digital Domain – You’ve Been Talking (or Pressing “Send”) in Your Sleep