Have you been talking (or pressing ‘send’) in your sleep?
E-mailing now comes so naturally to us that we can do it in our sleep — at least in the exceptional case. An article soon appearing in the journal Sleep Medicine, details the experience of a sleepwalker, showing we can send messages even when we seem to be sound asleep.
Such e-mailing interests neurologists who specialize in sleep science. After all, it poses a challenge to the accepted notion that sleepwalking is confined to activities involving gross motor movements, with minimal cognitive activity. Until now, we have been able to take comfort in our understanding of our own sleepwalking as an impersonal phenomenon. Whether it is eating junk food, rearranging furniture or even driving a car, the body carries out the action, seemingly on its own, while the mind slumbers, blissfully unaware.
Legal doctrine is based on this same notion. Sleepwalkers have been acquitted of criminal felony charges by basing their defense on the concept of “noninsane automatism.”
E-mailing while sleeping, however, upturns the previous understanding of the mind as essentially quiescent, absolved of a participating role. The Sleep Medicine article describes one woman’s e-mailing while sleeping as the first reported case of “complex nonviolent cognitive behavior.” It involved not just composing messages, but also navigating past two separate levels of password security to reach the e-mail software.
The patient suffered from severe insomnia and was taking zolpidem, which is marketed under various brand names, the best known of which is Ambien. She decided on her own to increase her daily dose to 15 milligrams, from the 10 milligrams prescribed by her doctor, to counteract what she perceived as diminished efficacy of the drug over time.
Later, she received a call from a friend, asking about a strange e-mail message that the patient had sent the caller the previous night. She had no memory of having done so. When the patient checked the computer and looked at a folder containing her sent messages, she discovered that three that had gone out within eight minutes the previous night while she was asleep, all with unusual capitalization, punctuation and language. “!HELP ME P-LEEEEESE” was the subject of one message, an invitation for “dinner & drinks,” and the message also implored the recipient to “come TOMORROW AND SORT THIS HELL HOLE Out!!!!!!”
Are they certain she wasn’t sleeping in her office. I get emails like that every day.