Healthy Living

'Email Apnea' And Other Reasons To Panic About Office Life: Do 80% Of People Stop Breathing Properly When Typing?

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Email apnea, or interrupted breathing during typing, is the worst office ailment you've never heard of. Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock

If you think your office cubicle keeps you safe from work related injuries, some would advise you to think again. According one person’s estimates, 80 percent of us may suffer from so-called email apnea — an ailment characterized by reduced breathing and oxygen supply during typing. Just like other types of apnea, the strange condition could theoretically contribute to a variety of stress-related diseases. But is it really something to worry about?

Email apnea — a term coined in 2008 by Huffington Post’s Linda Stone — appears to be about as serious as it is ridiculous. Basically, email apnea is defined as an adverse respiratory event that occurs during prolonged periods of productive screen time. As the concentration required to hammer out complex keystrokes grows more and more intense, the task begins to trip up perfunctory mechanisms like breathing and blinking. As a result, many experience fatigue, poor memory, irritability, anxiety, and headaches.

Speaking to Gizmodo, Stone told reporters that she begun investigating the phenomenon several years ago after a series of desktop housekeeping tasks left with a strange, lightheaded feeling. For some reason, she had stopped breathing halfway through her work. A doctor told her that episodes of respiratory imbalance were indeed bad signs, and that the habit could ultimately impact her overall health.

“Research conducted by Chesney and NIH (National Institutes of Health) research scientist, Dr. David Anderson, demonstrated that breath holding contributes significantly to stress-related diseases,” Stone wrote. “The body becomes acidic, the kidneys begin to re-absorb sodium, and as the oxygen (O2), carbon dioxide (CO2), and nitric oxide (NO) balance is undermined, our biochemistry is thrown off.”

The reason, Stone submits, is in all likelihood something moms and HR reps have waged war against for decades: poor posture in front of screens. As we engage with content presented on poorly lit, ergonomically challenged computer screens, our posture tends to suffer. At the end of a work shift, we may find ourselves in a contorted position we wouldn’t assume consciously. However, since remedies are rarely more sophisticated than the ailments they target, curing email apnea may be a cinch: "MOVE," Stone advises. "Stand up. Make eye contact with others." 

The condition is among the latest in a growing series of office related health outcomes. Another example is Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) — a related ailment that stems from an inadequate blinking rate during computer work. For anyone familiar with a 2013 office setting, the prevalence of these “medical” conditions may not come as a surprise. That said, whether they hold up under clinical scrutiny is anyone’s guess. 

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