IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Are you sleep texting? You could be sending messages and not even know it

Some people have become “hypervigilant” to the sound of their phone, waking when they hear a notification and instinctively reaching for the device.
Close-Up Of Woman Sleeping On Bed At Home
Getty Images stock
/ Source: TODAY

Some people’s very busy texting fingers don’t even get a break at night.

A quarter of college students admitted to sleep texting, or sending text messages “while in a sleep state,” with most having no memory of doing it until they checked their phone history, a study recently published in the Journal of American College Health found.

Those young adults were also more likely to report lower sleep quality, which could ultimately lead to chronic sleep deprivation and impact health, researchers said.

Elizabeth Dowdell, a nursing professor at Villanova University and co-author of the study, was taken aback when she first heard her students talking about the concept of sleep texting.

“I thought, oh my word,” Dowdell told TODAY. But she realized it may not surprising given that people keep their phones close at all times and react to any ping.

“If every time we hear that we respond, it makes sense we would do it when we sleep, too,” Dowdell said.

The average American checks his or her phone about 80 times a day, previous research has found. Some people have become “hypervigilant” to its sounds, waking when they hear a notification and instinctively reaching for the device while sleeping through other noise, the new study found.

The phenomenon is so pervasive there’s even a #sleeptexting hashtag on social media devoted to showing off some of the gibberish people type while dozing off. TODAY editor Courtney Gisriel recently sleep texted her father near midnight, typing “Okay, we’re ready for ya!” then realizing in the morning she had no idea what that enthusiastic statement was referring to.

TODAY's Courtney Gisriel sleep texted her father recently.
TODAY's Courtney Gisriel sleep texted her father recently.Courtesy Courtney Gisriel

The new findings add another chapter to research on smartphone addiction and the dangers of texting while walking, texting and driving, texting neck and the impact of texting on relationships.

Women are more likely to sleep text than men

For the study, 372 college students who were 19 years old on average filled out a questionnaire about their sleep habits and quality, plus what they did with their phones at night.

The vast majority, 93 percent, said they kept their device nearby — most next to the bed, though almost a third reported they had it in the bed with them. Women in the study were more likely to place the phone on their chest, on the pillow or under the pillow while sleeping, Dowdell said.

More than half of the respondents did not mute or set the phone to vibrate or airplane mode at night.

Some 25 percent of the students said they had texted in their sleep, with almost three-quarters — 72 percent — not remembering doing it until they checked their phone in the morning or were told about it by the message recipient. Women were more likely to sleep text than men.

Dowdell suspected the findings would apply to some adults, too, though not as frequently as to college-aged people.

The students who admitted sleep texting also reported lower sleep quality ratings, the study found. The results are concerning on a couple of fronts, the authors said.

“Sleep is our friend. Sleep quality is something we all should have,” Dowdell noted. “[Sleep texting] affects their sleep and we know that extended deprivation of sleep affects health.”

“(And) it’s always a little concerning when we hear about young adults who don’t remember doing things.”

How to prevent sleep texting:

Sherry Turkle, a psychologist, MIT professor and author of “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other,” advises three main no-phone zones:

  • the car
  • the kitchen
  • the bedroom

You may be better off buying a separate alarm clock to reduce your need to have a smartphone near your bed.

If you can't stand the idea of a phone-free bedroom, Dowdell suggested turning the phone off at night or at least putting it on airplane mode so nothing gets through until you wake up. If that’s not possible, program the device so that only select few people can call or text if they need to reach you while you sleep.

If you just can’t turn the phone off at night, at least try doing it during a nap, Dowdell said.

Remember: You control the technology, don’t let it control you.

Follow A. Pawlowski on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.