We tend to think our minds are either awake or asleep, with no in-between. However, sometimes, even when you think your mind is asleep, experts say both the brain and body are still very active1 during this time.
This in-between state of consciousness often occurs when we’re disturbed from a deep sleep, just enough to elicit a physical response or prompt a habit, but not enough to wake us fully.
A prime example of a behavior that can occur while your mind is asleep is sleep texting, which is the act of sending text messages while you’re unconscious. Fortunately, sleep texting disorder isn’t life-threatening, but it could have personal or professional ramifications. Below we’ll share some tips that will hopefully help you avoid experiencing this unusual phenomenon.
What Is Sleep Texting?
Sleep texting occurs when you unconsciously send text messages when you’re not fully awake. It’s a part of a spectrum of abnormal sleep behaviors called parasomnias2. When this occurs, the brain and body are in a state that’s not entirely conscious or asleep. When sleep texters wake up in the morning, they may rarely remember sending the message.
A person texting in their sleep may hear the notification their phone makes when they receive a text. Next, their body will answer the message on autopilot, often with their eyes still closed. Someone who texts in their sleep rarely initiates a text conversation. Instead, they usually respond to a text they’ve received.
As you can imagine, the words they text likely won’t make sense. During a non-rapid eye movement-related (NREM) parasomnia3, the person is not completely awake from sleep when experiencing an episode of texting and may have complete or partial amnesia afterward. Before you disregard a sleep disorder as unlikely, note that experts report between 1 and 4 percent4 of adults experience NREM parasomnias, and even more occur in childhood.
According to the Journal of American College Health, over 25 percent of students5 reported sleep texting behavior along with poor sleep habits.
Possible Causes of Texting in Your Sleep
When the brain and body are stressed, restful sleep is more challenging. As a result, sleep is often fragmented and fitful. Additionally, if your job is stressful and you use your phone for work, you might be more likely to send texts without realizing it. One recent study shows that those living with NREM parasomnia ineffectively respond to stress6, which makes impaired sleep more likely.
Learn More: Stress and Sleep
Excess Daytime Activity
We’re all busy, but if your schedule is exceptionally hectic, your brain may not entirely shut down at night; this could cause you to send text messages about whatever’s on your subconscious mind.
According to research, most adults7 report using technology and being online most of the time. If we’re as attached to our technology, including phones, as the data reports, it’s likely becoming increasingly difficult for us to disconnect from them. This inability to disconnect from our devices may be reflected when people text while they’re sleeping.
If you’re sleep-deprived, you may be suffering from a multitude of consequences without realizing it. Chronic sleep deprivation8 has been known to lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and heart failure. Further, living with physical ailments is often stressful on our minds as well, which could lead to a distracted mind come time for bed. So, if you’re distracted and stressed about your lack of sleep or your physical ailments, you may subconsciously attend to your text messages at night.
If a parent has a sleep disorder (even if it’s not texting-related), their child could also inherit the same condition. New research indicates that sleep conditions are tied to genetics, meaning if your parent struggles with any parasomnia disorders, there’s a chance you will too9. If your parent’s sleep is often disrupted and restless and they send texts subconsciously, you might have a similar experience.
Frequent Interruptions in Sleep
When someone is in and out of consciousness, they’re more likely to engage in behaviors10 like texting, sleepwalking, sleep talking, or even cooking meals. Similarly to what we touched on in regards to sleep deprivation, frequent interruptions will result in less restorative sleep, possibly impacting your ability to sleep soundly— therefore leaving you vulnerable to incoherent midnight texting.
How to Prevent Sleep Texting Disorder
Turn Off Your Cell Phone
The simplest and most effective way to avoid sleep texting is to turn off your phone at night. However, we realize that may not be an option for everyone. They may be on call for work, be expecting an important message, use their phone as an alarm, or have another circumstance that requires them to have their phone on.
Since there are some cases where you can’t turn your phone off at night, we will discuss some alternate solutions.
Put Your Phone on Silent Mode
Silent mode can be great for those looking to detach from their phones. Silencing your smartphone could be an effective way to stop texting while sleeping. If you don’t hear a notification from your phone, you’re less likely to reply to messages. However, this option may be problematic for those who rely on their phone at night for messages.
We noted earlier that some people do initiate texting behavior while sleeping. If that’s the case, then you may need to strongly consider just shutting off your phone at night.
Place Your Phone at a Distance
For those who can’t turn off their mobile devices, putting your phone far away from your bed could be a practical solution. Then, if your phone buzzes or rings, you won’t be able to reach for it blindly from your bed and begin having a conversation, still half asleep. Instead, you’ll have to physically get out of bed to get your phone, which will help you wake up more fully.
Maintain Healthy Sleep Habits
We often engage in odd behavior when we’re sleep-deprived, such as sleepwalking or sleep talking. Instances of parasomnias are more frequent when someone hasn’t gotten adequate sleep. Try your best to stick to a regular bedtime routine; go to bed at the same time each night, and wake up at the same time each morning. You can also do the same thing each night before going to bed, like reading a book or lighting a candle.
Giving your body some regularity should help keep your circadian rhythm healthy and let you sleep easier, which will hopefully reduce sleep texting behaviors.
Avoid Texting Back Immediately
While you’re awake, get in the habit of waiting to respond to texts. We often check and reply to texts as soon as we receive a notification. However, it might be beneficial to practice waiting to check your phone and to reply. If you practice this behavior while you’re awake, you’ll be less likely to respond immediately when half-conscious because you’ve already trained yourself not to react so quickly to a notification.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is sleep texting a disorder?
Any type of unusual or undesirable behavior while you’re sleeping is considered a parasomnia, which is a type of sleep disorder. Sleep texting is similar to sleepwalking because they both involve performing a physical activity while not being awake. While not fatal, sleep texting can harm someone’s professional or personal reputation if the person unintentionally texts something unprofessional, rude, or revealing about themselves.
How can you stop sleep texting?
The best way to stop texting in your sleep is to turn off your phone or set it on silent mode when going to bed. If that’s not possible because you need to hear notifications for work or another reason, put your phone as far away from your bed as you can. You’ll still hear your phone’s notifications, but you’ll have to get out of bed to grab your phone. While there’s no guarantee you’ll fully wake up when walking to your phone, getting out of bed could jar you enough so that you’re fully alert. This way, you can choose to answer the message or not.
Can sleep texting be linked to parasomnia?
Sleep texting is a type of parasomnia. A parasomnia is any type of abnormal behavior that someone does during sleep7. The person may be semi-conscious during the episode, while their brain is not fully alert. Examples of other parasomnias include sleepwalking, sleep eating, teeth grinding at night, night terrors, driving while sleeping, and having sex while sleeping, to name a few7.
Rachael is a content writer for Sleep Advisor who loves combining her enthusiasm for writing and wellness.
- “Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep”. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Last modified March 17, 2023.
- Fariba, Kamron A., Tadi, Prasanna. “Parasomnias”. StatPearls. Last modified July 17, 2023.
- Bruni MD, Oliviero., et al. “The Parasomnias”. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America. 2021.
- Irfan, Muna., Schenck, Carlos H., Howell, Michael J. “NonREM Disorders of Arousal and Related Parasomnias: an Updated Review. Neurotherapeutics. 2021.
- Dowdell PhD., Clayton, Brianne Q. “Interrupted sleep: College students sleeping with technology”. Journal of American College Health. 2019.
- Ramm, Markus., et al. “Increased behavioral inhibition trait and negative stress coping in non–rapid eye movement parasomnias”. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. 2020.
- Small, Gary W., et al. “Brain health consequences of digital technology use”. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. 2020.
- Cheok Liew, Siaw., Aung, Thidar. “Sleep deprivation and its association with diseases- a review”. Sleep Medicine. 2021.
- Ashbrook, Liza H., et al. “Genetics of the human circadian clock and sleep homeostat”. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2019.
- Miletínová, E., et al. “Alterations of sleep initiation in NREM parasomnia after sleep deprivation – A multimodal pilot study”. Sleep Medicine: X. 2023.