October 11, 2013
Texting Affects Health, Sleep And Friendships
According to the UK’s Daily Mail and a study by Dr. Karla Murdock at Washington Lee University, Virginia, people who like to text a lot sleep worse as a result.
The study asked students how many times they texted a day, and also studied their quality of sleep using the widely utilized Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, which incorporates all aspects of sleep, from how long it takes to fall asleep to how sleepy people are during the day time, as well as length of time slept. The results showed that the more texts people send, the worse their sleep is.
The main theory offered was that people feel the need to respond to text messages even if we are drifting off to sleep, or indeed are actually asleep but the buzz of our phone, which a lot of us keep next to our heads, wakes us up and we just can’t wait to find out what our friend said. I would go beyond this and suggest that even if nobody texts us after we have got into bed for the night, if we have been texting during the evening our minds will still be full of all the exchanges, and their significance.
And if another aspect of the study is to be believed, then these exchanges between friends may have been stressful. Stress, of course, is a major enemy of sleep. Dr. Murdoch thinks that certain elements of texting make conducting a full and healthy friendship more difficult, and that this can be a strain on the relationship. Abbreviated text-speak and the lack of facial expressions and gestures that help empathy and clarity in communicating are two reasons why texts are not an ideal form of communication.
It is also true that tone is sometimes hard to judge in text messages. If you leave an exclamation mark off, a text can sound sullen and dry. If you put too many in, you sound like you’re bouncing around the room like a puppy at walkies. You can always use smiley faces and emoticons, I suppose, but adult men, for one group, are still finding it difficult to come to terms with these things.
It gets worse, too. Another Daily Mail article says that 84 percent of 18-24 year olds are suffering from ‘iPosture,’ a phenomenon of back pain caused by hunching over smartphones and tablets. More young people now suffer back pain than their parents’ generation did. And gadgets, including games consoles and PCs, as well as phones and tablets, are being cited as one of the causes.
But before we all become too guilty of demonising new technology in order to have something sensational to study, publish and write about, let’s consider the flip side and other factors. The Washington Lee study concentrated on first year university students. Their kind of texting is likely to be based around developing personal relationships, often new ones, which are always quite exciting and stressful. But for a parent, the comfort of getting a text message from a child or other family member to say they are safe and well and to say ‘good night’ will send them off to sleep much more contentedly than if they were out of touch. Mobile communication also allows for contact between loved ones on different sides of the country or planet, and that contact is comforting, tempering the stress of being apart. Lack of contact can put strain on friendships, as well as sleep, just as the emotional inadequacies of text commination can. Is an imperfect contact better than none at all? Very possibly.
As for back pain, the article says that the problem may be down simply to parents advising children to ‘sit up straight’ less than previous generations did, because it’s seen as being a bit square and stuffy. Maybe we should concentrate more on posture like we used to. But that applies to all areas of life, not just using gadgets. The answer is probably, “sit up straight when using your gadgets.” Not, “don’t use your evil gadgets at all, ever.”
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