Don’t hold your breath when it comes to e-mail writing. No. Really. Don’t hold your breath!
Move over sleep apnea. There’s a new apnea that has been identified—“e-mail apnea.”
The truth is that four out of five people regularly stop breathing while they are typing e-mails, according to studies conducted by former Apple executive Linda Stone, who named the phenomenon. It’s a condition that health professionals are increasingly identifying as “e-mail apnea,” and it can cause some adverse outcomes.
Edward Grandi, executive director of the American Sleep Apnea Association, explains, “If people are in a stressful situation, perhaps having to deal with some stressful communication, they might end up holding their breath. It's not just email; it's email and texting."
Perhaps the most well-known form of apnea (ceasing to breathe) is sleep apnea—that is, until e-mail apnea was discovered. During sleep apnea, ceasing to breathe causes the person to pull out of a deep sleep into a lighter sleep or even to wake up entirely. Sleep apnea can lead to anxiety, fatigue, headaches, sore or dry throat, depression, impotence, and poor memory and concentration.
E-mail apnea—a form of “waking” apnea—has other effects. Since the body doesn’t receive adequate oxygen, the sympathetic nervous system is activated and puts the person in a stressed out, “fight or flight” mode. The effects of this state can include light-headedness, increased heart rate, flushing, excessive sweating, pupil dilation and restless legs. There’s also an unfavorable hormonal response—elevation of cortisol, the stress hormone—as well as resulting problems with the metabolic, reproductive and immune systems.
Obviously, none of that is good for our health, especially since our lives are typically inundated with e-mails and/or texting. So, how do we fight against e-mail apnea? In short, we need to change the way we engage e-mail and texting and the use of our electronic devices.
For example, setting boundaries for when, where and how often you check and respond to e-mails or texts is a good starting point. You could set specific times of the day during which you answer e-mails, such as mid-morning, early afternoon and right before you leave from work or around dinner time. Then leave it alone until the next morning or mid-morning.
Also, you may want to make it a point to check e-mails only while on your computer at those set times instead of being glued to your smartphone and checking e-mails or texts every waking (and even when you're supposed to be sleeping) minute. That means not checking e-mail or texts in bed, at stoplights, in the bathroom or any other place where you really shouldn’t be checking and responding to e-mail.
Additionally, be aware of your breathing when you do check e-mail or your texts, and intentionally breathe deeply and normally. Be in tune with yourself—your thoughts, your emotions, your breathing—when checking and responding to e-mails and texts.
With 80 percent of us reportedly experiencing e-mail apnea, it really is time to not hold your breath when it comes to e-mailing or texting.