Four out of five people regularly stop breathing while typing emails, according to studies conducted by former Apple executive Linda Stone. The condition, which health professionals are calling “email apnea,” may lead to serious health consequences.
“If people are in a stressful situation, perhaps having to deal with some stressful communication, they might end up holding their breath,” said Edward Grandi, executive director of the American Sleep Apnea Association. “It’s not just email, it’s email and texting.”
Gizmodo blogger Adam Clark Estes wrote that he had noticed the condition in himself, whenever he was concentrating on writing an especially difficult paragraph.
“I must’ve slipped a little too deeply into the zone,” he said. “A head shake and a couple breaths later, and I was back at it.”
But the pattern is hard to break, Estes noted.
“Within minutes, the same light-headed feeling was back. I’d stopped breathing, again.”
Apnea: not just for sleeping
Prior to evidence of how widespread email apnea is, the most common form of apnea (cessation of breathing) was thought to be sleep apnea. In sleep apnea, most common in overweight adults, the cessation of breathing pulls the patient out of deep sleep into either light sleep or complete wakefulness. Sleep apnea can lead to a sore or dry throat and symptoms of sleep deprivation including tiredness, anxiety, depression, headaches, impotence, low libido and poor memory and concentration.
Waking apnea – including email apnea – has different effects. Because the body is not getting enough oxygen, it activates the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the “fight-or-flight” response. This can produce pupil dilation, increased heart rate, flushing, excessive sweating and restless legs.
But while the fight-or-flight response is well suited to evading or overcoming physical threats, it can be maladaptive when activated in an office chair. Among other things, a constantly activated sympathetic nervous system can produce symptoms of chronic stress, including problems with the metabolic, reproductive and immune systems.
“Are we more obese and diabetic because of a combination of holding our breath off and on all day and then failing to move when our bodies have prepared us to do so?” Stone said…