The Risks of Excessive Texting

by Wellness Editor – MH

In the past decade or so, text messaging has fundamentally altered the way people communicate with each other. Consider that in the year 2000, Americans sent a total of 14 billion text messages. Just a decade later, this figure had swelled to 188 billion texts, an increase of nearly 1250 percent. With this surge of popularity have come concerns that excessive texting can be detrimental to the body’s health. Some recent studies have found that sending too many texts can be indicative of future (or present) health-related problems.

Texting Instead of Calling

Instead of calling friends, relatives and loved ones, many people now opt to quickly type up and send a text message. This trend is particularly pronounced among young adults. On average, people in the 18 to 29 age bracket send and receive astounding 88 text messages daily, compared with only 17 phone calls. While not as prone to texting as their younger counterparts, adults in all age brackets seem to have grown accustom to sending texts. Even senior citizens prefer texting (4.7 texts sent or received daily) to phone calls (3.8).

The benefits of text messaging are obvious – compared with phone calls, texting requires less time and effort, allowing people to quickly send messages within a matter of seconds. Furthermore, sending a text message is generally seen as a less intimate form of communication, offering the user more conversational control and avoiding much of the awkwardness that can occur during a phone call. Finally, some younger users view phone calls as unnecessary or even rude, interrupting people at inopportune times of the day.

Bad for the Body?

Over the last several years, medical researchers have put texting habits under the microscope, seeking to gauge how this shift in communication preferences has impacted human health. One such study was published by Case Western Reserve School of Medicine. Released in 2010, this survey collected data from 4,257 high school students, all of whom attended school in an urban county located in the Midwestern United States.

After compiling and reviewing data submitted by the students, the Case Western team determined that heavy texting may cause teens to engage in unhealthy and antisocial behaviors. The study primarily concentrated “hyper texters,” students who sent 120 or more texts over the course of a single school day. Compared with teens that texted less frequently, these students were:

  • 40% likelier to have smoked cigarettes
  • 43% more likely to be binge drinkers
  • 41% more likely to have consumed illegal drugs
  • 55% likelier to have been involved in a physical fight
  • Nearly 3.5 times more likely to have had sex
  • 90% more likely to have had four or more sexual partners.

(A press release detailing the study can be found at this link: http://case.edu/think/breakingnews/hypertexting.html)

The study’s authors cautioned that their while their findings do indicate an association between “hyper-texting” and poor personal judgment, they do not conclusively prove that frequenting texting causes risky behavior.  Nonetheless, the study’s lead researcher urged parents to actively monitor and control their children’s texting habits.

The Impact on Sleep

Young adults who send text after text with their smart phones might also find it much more difficult to fall asleep at a reasonable hour. Such was the opinion of researchers from Virginia’s Washington and Lee University. Published in the October 2013 issue of the Psychology of Popular Media Culture, this report surveyed 83 first-year students at an unidentified college. The ages of the participants ranged from 18 to 21.

In addition to being quizzed about their texting habits, each subject underwent a series of specific tests. These tests gauged the students’ mental and emotional wellbeing, asking them to rate their feelings of happiness over the previous month. Students were also asked about how much academic and social burnout they had recently experienced. The stress levels of each participant were also recorded.

The Washington and Lee researchers noted that students who texted more often tended to have greater difficulties with sleeping. Specifically, these subjects were more likely to have trouble falling asleep, struggle with fatigue and get fewer hours of regular sleep. The study also noted that frequent texting had a negative effect on high-stress students, exacerbating their symptoms and rendering them more susceptible to burnout. The problems stemming from excessive texting were more likely to strike students who qualified as “heavy texters,” or subjects who sent more than 100 messages daily.

According to the study’s author, Karla Klein Murodck, heavy texters often receive texts well into the evening hours, which may cause them to stay up later than they otherwise would. They may also be jolted awake by overnight text messages. Murdock stressed that her study did not establish a direct and indisputable link between excessive texting and poor sleep. It did, however, indicate that a correlation may exist between heavy texting and sleep difficulties.

Watch Where You Step

It’s fairly obvious as to why texting while driving is a bad idea; drivers distracted by an incoming text message could easily find themselves involved in a harrowing car accident. A somewhat similar danger may exist for those who habitually send texts when walking.

In January 2014, a group of Australian researchers recruited thirty volunteers for a study examining this very topic. The subjects were asked to simply walk down a hallway; while performing this activity, some were told to text, others to read material on their phones while others were asked to keep their focus solely on walking. As the subjects traversed through the hall, their bodily movements were tracked by multiple cameras. In addition, the researchers used reflective markers to record the positions of various sections of the body.

As one may expect, the multitasking volunteers had more difficulty staying on course when walking down the hallway. The research team also noticed that the texting group maintained an awkward, robotic-like posture as they walked. Subjects who read rather than texted also had trouble staying on course, though their difficulties were less pronounced. Finally, more than a third (35%) of those in the texting group reported having prior accidents (such as bumping into people or objects) while texting and walking simultaneously.

Text messaging can certainly be a useful tool, particularly for those who prefer not spend hours talking on the phone. However, as with other kinds of technology, it appears that texting is a form of commutation that is best used in moderation.

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