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Sleep Texting Is On The Rise, Experts Suggest

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SLEEP TEXTING
Is sleep texting on the rise? Some experts say "yes." | Alamy

Teens are known for being dependent on their cell phones -- exchanging as many as 60 text messages a day -- but are they so attached to their devices that they'll respond to texts while they're sleeping?

Yes, say some experts -- and the behavior is becoming more common.

Earlier this week, a CBS affiliate in Philadelphia spoke with Dr. Elizabeth Dowdell, a professor of nursing at Villanova University, who believes that more and more teens may be texting in their sleep

"It's something new. We're just starting to get a handle on it," Dowdell told The Huffington Post. "I think that we will start to see more of this as cell phones become much more accessible at all ages."

With sleep texting, the beep of a cell phone lightly awakens a person, so he or she will reach over and respond to a message (sometimes with jibberish). However, the person has no memory of having done so in the morning.

Dowdell explained that while she has not conducted research on this particular phenomenon, she's seen enough anecdotal evidence to suspect that it is on the rise.

The professor initially heard about the practice from one of her students who mentioned that she had been texting people while she was sleeping. When Dowdell went on to bring the subject up in one her classes, many students admitted having done the same. People said they learned about their behavior either from friends who were perplexed by their messages, or by reviewing their texting history themselves.

Dowdell currently studies teens and online behavior and noted that many of the parents she encounters in her research say that their kids are too tied to technology and aren't getting enough sleep. She believes the beeping of their cell phones late at night could be contributing to the problem.

Dr. Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist and sleep specialist, confirmed to The Huffington Post that based on what he's heard from his patients, he, too, believes that sleep texting may be increasing -- and among adults, no less.

"With the advent of texting, I would absolutely say there's a significant uptick in this type of thing," Breus said.

Because teens often sleep with their phones next to their beds, they might be more susceptible to sleep texting. (Research has shown that four out of five teens sleeps with their phone nearby.) But Breus said that any person who receives texts at night and keeps his or her phone close -- with the ringer on -- could be vulnerable to replying back.

Still, communicating during sleep isn't a new activity; texting is just the newest way in which people do so.

Breus noted that people have long answered phone calls in the middle of the night with little recollection the next day. Such behavior has, for years, been referred to as the "on call effect," because doctors who get woken up by pages and respond sometimes don't recall the conversations later.

"It's basically what we call an arousal disorder. Somebody gets woken up [by an outside stimulus] but is not completely awake from the process of sleeping," said Breus. "People will reach over, and not even half awake, will start answering their texts."

While there still are no scientific studies on sleep texting to give an indication of how widespread the practice is (or isn't), reports of doctors noticing the trend started to surface as early as 2011.

At the time, Dr. Markus Schmidt, a sleep researcher from Ohio told a local news outlet that the culprit could be sleep deprivation, which can leave persons in a half-asleep, half-awake state in which they'd be more compelled to respond to a text.

Dr. David Cunnington, of the Melbourne Sleep Disorder Center, previously argued to the Associated Press that stress and reliance on technology were also contributing factors.

“People are doing so much during a normal day that it can mean that they feel like they’re ‘on call’ even at night,” Cunnington told the AP, according to the New York Daily News. “Because it’s so easy to receive emails constantly, and get notifications from smartphones, it becomes more difficult for us to separate our waking and sleeping lives.”

Texting during sleep has even been captured on camera.

On the television show "Anderson Live" last year, an EMT who had been texting in her sleep, agreeing to take on extra shifts at work but not remembering it, was observed overnight in a sleep center. Video footage showed her responding to text messages.

Ari Brown, a pediatrician in Austin, Texas, whose practice sees thousands of patients, told HuffPost that she had never heard anyone mention texting in their sleep. However, she said she has seen possible evidence of the practice at home with her 17-year-old son.

"I've found him in bed asleep with the phone in his hand," Brown said.

Brown warned that there would be significant downsides to teens sleeping with their phones and answering texts in the middle of the night.

"Teenagers probably get the least sleep out of many age groups, and they really need that sleep because they're still growing, and their brains are growing, and they're super busy during the day," Brown said. "If you are already getting a limited number of hours of sleep, and then the quality is worsened -- even if you don’t remember it -- that's a cause for concern."

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