What Is Email Apnea?

Man office

When our attention is focused on a task, such as typing or reading a text message or email, we may forget to breathe. It may be fleeting, but even a momentary interruption to our standard oxygen supply is enough to trigger our body’s stress reaction.

When reacting to emails or texts, many people may unintentionally hold their breath or breathe more shallow than usual. What can you do about it? Firstly don’t panic! And don’t over think this. However by becoming conscious of your breathing, you have already accomplished the first necessary step toward resolving the issue. Becoming aware of your breathing is one of the first things I teach on my buteyko breathing courses and it’s vital for good health.


What Is Email Apnea?

Screen apnea, sometimes known as “email apnea,” occurs when a person is so engrossed in electronic devices that they forget to exhale fully or only take short, shallow breaths. Linda Stone, an author, public speaker, and management consultant, first used this word. After taking courses in Buteyko breathing, Stone realised that she started holding her breath when she sat down at her desk. Stone set out to investigate the topic by watching others show that this wasn’t only a peculiar tendency she maintained. She followed them around in the workplace, at home, and in public, and she found that approximately 80% of them all had the same breathing practice.


What Is Wrong With Holding Your Breath?

To begin with, holding your breath disrupts the delicate equilibrium of the body’s oxygen, nitric oxide, and carbon dioxide systems. The National Institute of Health reports that when we don’t get enough of these nutrients, we become more stressed, our bodies become acidic, our kidneys start re-absorbing sodium, and our biochemistry becomes all messed up.

The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve that regulates the sympathetic (‘fight or flight’) neurological system, and Stone’s research showed a connection between holding one’s breath and this system. Inducing the “fight or flight” reaction in the brain, holding one’s breath can increase feelings of anxiety, speed up the pulse rate, and cause the liver to use up glucose, leading to a craving for sweet foods.


Why Do We Do It?

During times of intense concentration (such as reading or answering emails), the human brain has been shown to suppress automatic processes like breathing, as reported in a study conducted in 2006. When performing very taxing sensory activities, “self-related function essentially shuts down,” a process the researchers termed “losing oneself.”

Our chests become squeezed, and our respiration is impeded when we spend long periods hunched over mobile devices. We take a deep breath in, hold it for a few seconds, and then take another deep breath in when we’re under pressure from things like an inbox full of unread emails, an angry tweet from a customer, or a client who won’t give in.

Multiple variables contribute to the development of email apnea. Possible examples are how we carry ourselves. Our posture can quickly slump when we spend too much time slumped over a computer screen or a mobile device. This can restrict our ability to take deep breaths in and out. Anxiety or stress caused by too much time spent on electronic devices may also contribute to sleep problems and how we breathe during the day affects how we breathe at night. Finally, it’s possible to lose track of time and become unconcerned if we scroll or click through web pages on our devices for long periods.


How Is Email Apnea Bad For Our Health?

The emotional condition we’re in when we check our email or get onto a social media site significantly contributes to email apnea. When we turn on our computers, we may feel panicked by the number of emails waiting for us, or we may worry about what we will see on social media, either because of how we measure up to others or because we fear what others will think of us based on the number of likes our most recent post received.

When we react physically by holding our breath or inhaling shallowly, we exacerbate the situation by stimulating a brain reaction that makes it even harder to breathe deeply. When we feel unease in our breathing, the diaphragm-attached Vagus nerve sends a message to the brain to warn us of impending danger. Our brain recognises this as a threat and triggers the body’s flight, fight, or freeze response. As a result, our bodies will react with a chain reaction that includes breathing more quickly and shallowly.

Prolonged sympathetic dominance harms human health in many ways, including our ability to acquire and remember new information, our quality of sleep, and the development of stress-related disorders. That’s why it’s crucial that we learn to monitor our breathing patterns at work and when using electronic devices because they may be a factor in the development of stress, anxiety, and depression.


How to Overcome Email Apnea? 
Woman office

Be sure to take frequent breaks

As we’ve established, email apnea often occurs when we stop paying attention to the here and now. Taking regular breaks away from your device might help you maintain focus and prevent you from becoming oblivious to your surroundings.

You can use these breaks to reacquaint yourself with the present moment and your breathing pattern by performing brief mindfulness practice or breathing exercises, such as box breathing or buteyko breathing.

Learn to control your breathing

Studying your breathing patterns could assist if you want to improve your breathing. Breathing at a rate of 5.5-6 times per minute is ideal. That’s why it’s recommended that you take approximately 10 seconds for each inhalation and exhale. If this feels too long for you, start gently. Maybe breathe in for 3 seconds and out for 5 seconds and then build up to breathing in for 4 seconds and out for 6 seconds.

Breathe via your nose

Researchers studying email apnea have shown that mouth breathing has harmful repercussions. Nasal breathing is a game changer for your health and wellbeing.

Seeing and breathing are intricately connected systems. To avoid email apnea, eye strain, headaches, and poor posture, taking frequent breaks from looking at screens is essential.

A combination of EMT and IMT

Results from research indicate that combining Inspiratory Muscle Training (IMT) and Expiratory Muscle Training considerably improves respiratory muscle strength and endurance, reduces feelings of dyspnea (laboured breathing) at rest and throughout exercise, and has a trend toward enhancing functional exercise capacity. According to 11 studies, regular EMT training is beneficial to the health of the heart, lungs, and brain system. Strengthening breathing muscles can help avoid email apnea. I cover all these exercises in my buteyko breathing courses (available in person -Sunshine Coast, Queensland and online)



The risk of obstructive email apnea can be reduced by developing a heightened awareness of breathing, nasal breathing, regularly engaging in meditation and breathing exercises, and taking the other measures outlined above such as regular breaks from technology.


If you’d like to learn more about my breathing courses, send me a message or read more on my buteyko breathing page.

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