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Sleepytime SMS: Teenagers at risk of somnolent sexting

Yes, the latest in the endless series of threats that have beset the youth of America (since Peter Stuyvesant forced the hobbledehoys of New Amsterdam to take up smoking) is sleep texting, a compulsion so insidious and so widespread that nobody knows they are doing it until it is too late but all the classic signs of self-abuse are there for everyone else to see - the staring eyes, the zits, the tics and twitches, the headaches, the nose bleeds, the hairy palms - the sheer horror of it all.

According to Elizabeth Dowdell, Professor of Nursing a Villanova University in Pennsylvania in the US, "more and more teenagers" are responding to SMS messages the instant they arrive, be that by day or night, and, if by night, will even reply to them whilst either still asleep or barely sentient - which, for some adolescents can sometimes be quite separate states of consciousness. Prof. Dowdell says, "The phone will beep, they'll answer the text. They'll either respond in words or gibberish." Who'd have thought it?

What is exercising the Professor is the possibility that the somnambulant texters might either hurt themselves by wandering around in a daze and falling out of windows or putting themselves in some other ill-defined state of risk by either forgetting having replied to a text, having made "questionable decisions" or having responded "inappropriately" to a text whilst in a catatonic state. The mind boggles.

Professor Dowdell's remedy is for all teenagers, (she does not differentiate at all between 13-year olds and 19 year-olds) to get between eight and ten hours of sleep a night. I can tell her from my own teenage experiences and observing those of my children and grandchildren that they do indeed tend to get that amount of sleep and often more - but not necessarily during the hours of darkness. Teenagers work to a rhythm that adults can't understand and have difficulty in accommodating.

Elizabeth Dowdell adds that an "hour-and-a-half or two hours into their sleep cycle" teenagers are "answering texts or machines are beeping at them.” This results in "sleep interruption and can lead to obesity, depression, failing grades and more." (presumably such as the aforementioned hairy palms). But there is an answer. It is "To put the phone on the other side of the room and turn off the ringer."Well, I'll bet no one has ever thought of that before.

OK there's a serious point behind stating the obvious. Lack of and disturbed sleep caused by our dependency on technology is a very 21st century issue and addiction to social media is exacerbating the problem. Teenagers can and do suffer disproportionately if they burn the candles at both ends (but then they always as they always have throughout history. Let's remember that Geoffrey Chaucer was moaning about teenage apprentices disturbing his sleep in the City of London of the 14th century).

That said, we are surrounded by technology that demands our obescience and continual attention 24 hours a day and if we allow ourselves to become slave to the machine it is unsurprising that some of us will begin to suffer from sleep-deprivation related illnesses such obesity, high blood pressure, depression and behavioural problems. Which brings us back to anti-social teenagers.

A recent large-scale study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that teenagers in the US spend an average 53 hours per week engaged with some form of electronic media - and that's before factoring in the 90 minutes to two hours per day, each and every day, that adolescents devote to texting.

We're doomed I tell you, doomed.

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