Nearly 5,000 text messages are being sent every second in the UK. From 39.7 billion at the end of last year, the total number of text messages sent by Britons has reached 38.5 billion this year, according to a report published in Daily Mail. The convenience of text messaging has captured the hearts of most people that it became one of the most common forms of communication today. Unlike calling, text messaging allows you to communicate with someone at any time of the day, without disturbing them. You can ‘text’ your friend in the middle of the night, during dinner, and even when they are at work. What’s more, text messaging allows you to construct your message carefully and ‘pick’ the right words to say.
That’s what it supposed to be.
In reality however, many people exchange text messages round the clock, especially teenagers and young adults. Basically, they take advantage of the texting ‘promos’ offered by their service providers. There’s the ‘unli-text’ messaging, free texting, etc. All these allow users to extend conversations with their social contacts that begin from the time they wake up and end by the time they close their eyes to sleep.
Is texting a health risk?
In the past years, health experts have been warning about the health risks of texting. In 2010, Scott Frank, an American doctor, found that extreme texting and use of social media is linked to higher levels of risky behaviour. He surveyed more than 4,000 high school students, aged 13 to 18 at local schools on their texting and social media habits. He found that teenagers classified as ‘hyper texters’, or those who send 120 text messages or more every day, are more likely to drink, smoke and have sex.
Hyper texting has also been linked to anxiety, stress and other mental health issues. There’s a relatively new phenomenon – ‘sleep texting’, wherein a person sends incoherent messages to their social contacts whilst asleep. Whilst it is a rare condition, experts agree that it can have serious consequences in the sufferer’s life. Sleep specialist Dr David Cunnington, of Melbourne Sleep Disorder Centre in Australia, explained one possible reason – stress. “People are doing so much during a normal day that it can mean that they feel like they’re "on call" even at night.” he told Daily Mail. Dr Cunnington added that people struggling to get a quality sleep should keep their phones out of the bedroom.
Another study published in The New York Times suggests that texting leads to anxiety, distraction in school, falling grades, repetitive stress injury and sleep deprivation. Whilst it offers companionship and a sense of connectedness, texting may make a youngster feel frightened and overly exposed, Michael Hausauer, a US-based psychotherapist told The New York Times.
Texting may also increase the risk of musculoskeletal disorders due to the intensive repetitive use of the upper extremities, according to the Peter W. Johnson, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Washington in the US. He said it can result to temporary or permanent damage to the thumbs.
Just this year, Karla Klein Murdock of Washington and Lee University conducted a study to examine the effects of extreme texting to an individual’s physical and mental health. She wondered whether young adults experiencing stress in their relationships and who engage in hyper texting would be at risk of some classic stress syndrome symptoms of burnout, low levels of well-being and poor sleep quality. She found that high-volume texters who were most stressed in their relationships were also most likely to report experiencing academic burnout and poor well-being. They are also more likely to experience sleep issues. Murdock explained that it is difficult to sleep when a person is preoccupied with a text they just received, or perhaps fretting about a text’s exact meaning. She argued that texting creates its own ‘relational vortex’. Basically, ‘texters’ interpret a message mainly on the words and symbols the sender used. There is the absence of ‘in-person cues’ that are only available through face-to-face conversation. Therefore, there’s a great chance that misunderstandings may occur.
Cutting the risks
Surely, text messaging has its own benefits. And in this modern world, it is almost impossible to eliminate the habit of texting, especially among young adults and teenagers. Well, you don’t have to throw away your phone and stop texting completely. All the studies presented here only suggest that you may want to take a break once in a while, and keep everything in balance. Consider the following tips to reduce the risks of texting on your health:
1. Be aware of the number of text messages you send every day. This way, you will know whether you are among the people considered as ‘hyper texters’ or not. If you’re sending over 50 messages daily, you might be in some real danger.
2. Check if you’re texting just for the sake of ‘texting’. Do the messages you send important? Do you send them to your closed friends or relatives? Or to people you haven’t even met in person? Is texting helping you keep your close relationships intact or is it doing the opposite?
3. Avoid texting before bedtime. Texting at night interferes with your sleep for several reasons. First, the blue light your mobile phone emits could affect your melatonin levels – the hormone that regulates your body’s circadian rhythm. Second, hyper-texting can be stressful. Remember, anything you do several minutes every day can negatively affect your sleep quality.
4. If it’s getting painful, quit. Is the conversation you’re having with one of your social contacts hurting you emotionally? If yes, just delete the message thread and stop replying or sending messages to that person. If you get more pain than pleasure, texting might not be the best means of communication for you.