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Twilight consciousness – can you text while asleep (and what does that say about you?) (8/10/11)

August 10, 2011

Burning to Communicate  

Can you text while asleep?  Many claim to do just that.  They wake up in the morning and find they’ve sent a text to someone and have no recollection they did it (  Sometimes the text is nonsense, sometimes its message is rational but banal.

What’s Going On?

People are now texting with such regularity and facility that they can perform in a semi-conscious state, one where they may be partially asleep and partially awake.  In a Travelogue study done in Britain, 27% of workers were taking emails from their boss during night-time sleep.

Teenagers?  Estimates vary, but probably a third of American teens with cell phones text during the middle of the night.

People think of sleep and wakefulness as two completely different states, rather like turning on and off a light switch.


Recent evidence is that sleep deprived animals will still possess some neurons in sleep phases while others are fully awake.  It’s also possible for sleeping humans to have neuronal groups acting very much awake while their body and brain look asleep.  The University of Pittsburgh group around Daniel Buysse and Eric Nofziger posits a partially awake brain as a major cause of insomnia.

Is Consciousness Something that Literally Goes On and Off?

No. Consciousness constantly fluctuates throughout the 24 hour day.  Sometimes you’re really alert, sometimes you’re in deep sleep – and lots of times, far more than you will recall, you may exist in-between – in twilight consciousness.

Why Can’t People Remember Texting?

Probably for the same reason people cannot remember what they did in the last few minutes before they fell asleep. Most  of the information your body processes does not go into conscious memory – can you remember what bacteria your sinuses expelled today?  For the small part of daily information that does eventually move into conscious memory,  it first has to go into some version of temporary and then semi-permanenent storage – a process that may not happen at all during the time we go from wake to sleep.

Falling asleep is more like attempting to have a dozen symphony orchestras play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in complete synchrony – with two orchestras in the concert hall, three somewhere in the parking lot, four at different bus stops, and three all the way cross town.  If anybody’s playing out of tune, or out of tempo, you don’t get to fully transition into the state we call sleep.  Just watch students at any university lecture class before 10 AM –  you’ll see people fluctuating between sleep and wake.

Since we don’t remember much of what happens before we fall asleep, lots of those students won’t remember what the lecturer was saying.

Is Texting During Sleep Bad?

Texting your girlfriend a series of random numbers and letters at 3 in the morning is generally not appreciated and may be cause for alarm.  But that’s just the beginning of the problem:

Growth Hormone

Growth hormone literally lets you grow.  It resculpts the body, so efficiently it’s now banned under the new NFL contract and sold at high prices by anti-aging doctors who claim it will make people look, act, and feel younger.

Almost all your growth hormone is produced during deep sleep, a process that declines as we age, especially in adult males.

So, if you want growth hormone, you need deep sleep.  Deep sleep usually occurs in the first third of the night. But it only happens if you have plenty of uninterrupted sleep.  To get into REM sleep and deep sleep, you need to sleep continually for quite a while.

And since sleep is very easy to disrupt, texting during sleep becomes a bad idea – because it weakens your ability to get deep sleep and REM sleep.

And both are required to consolidate memory.  So texting during the night means less learning – and another reason you won’t remember whether you texted or not.

Other Hormones

Interrupted sleep leads to insulin resistance.  You need more insulin to do the job, which means more of the stuff is floating around, helping to build belly fat.  Leptin and ghrelin, important in regulating appetite, also go haywire as you interrupt sleep.

So interrupting sleep o text is ultimately an effective way to make you fatter.

Experiencing the light of your cell phone also stops melatonin production, generally within seconds to minutes.  That helps disrupt your body’s timing mechanism – your inner body clocks.  Disrupt clocks, as you would by shutting down your car engine’s timer, and all sorts of things don’t work well – throughout your body.

So what are the Advantages of Texting at Night?

1. Getting fatter.

2. Not remembering what you did at night.

3. Not consolidating long term memory, including learning conscious and unconscious material.

4. Less effective growth.

5.Higher  Insulin resistance.

6. Fatigue and slowness during the day with diminished productivity.

7. Disrupted body clocks, which can feel like your very own home-grown jet lag.

8. A potentially greater sense of closeness with your girlfriend, boyfriend, or boss.

Bottom Line:

Rest is regeneration.  You need sleep to survive, much as you need food.

Texting will have emergency uses.  But to become fully conscious in the day, you need to rest at night.

So if at all possible, turn off your cell phone at night, or make waking contingent on true emergencies.

Full consciousness is much more fun than twilight consciousness.
Rest, sleep, Sarasota Sleep Doctor, well-being, regeneration, longevity, body clocks, insomnia, sleep disorders, the rest doctor, matthew edlund, the power of rest, the body clock, psychology today, huffington post, redbook, longboat key news

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