Experts: Anticipation Of What's In Emails Or Texts Leads To Spontaneous Breath Holding

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — We’ve long known that lack of sleep can be a serious health threat.

Now doctors have another concern. It’s a new condition that could affect anyone who uses an electronic device.

Researchers call it “email apnea.”

Emails, tweets, text messages, we are subjected to them hundreds of times per day. They are simple acts that some now worry could be harmful to your health, CBS2’s Kristine Johnson reported on Monday.

“What concerns me is the cumulative effect,” tech expert Linda Stone said.

Stone is sounding the alarm about something she says most of us do as a matter of routine. When we check our e-mail, “I caught myself shallow breathing and breath holding,” Stone said.

We hold our breath. It’s called email apnea.

“It turns out about 80 percent of us experience this apnea when we’re in front of a screen, especially when we’re texting or doing email,” Stone said.

Anticipation — not knowing what’s in those emails or texts — leads to spontaneous breath holding, and that could impact health, Stone said.

At Tea Lounge in Brooklyn, most computer users had no idea they were even doing it — until CBS 2 pointed it out.

“I think I probably hold my breath a little bit,” one person said.

“I probably never would have noticed it, but I’ll be more conscious of it,” another person said.

“The idea kind of makes sense to me, I think,” another person said.

Like sleep apnea, which puts people at risk for a variety of illnesses — from stroke and heart attack to diabetes — experts are now concerned about the effects of email apnea.

“I think we’re going to hear more about this,” Dr. Josh Werber said.

Werber said he worries about the long-term effect.

“There could be consequences, subtle consequences with respect to blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and things that are associated with that,” Dr. Werber said.

Psychologist Dr. Fred Meunch studies the impact of technology on the body. He said it is poor posture, combined with the anticipation we experience before opening email that puts us at risk for email apnea.

“Think of it as like apnea light,” Dr. Meunch said. “What that’s doing physiologically is it’s causing a stress-response reaction.”

Meunch said scientists are just now starting to look at the health implications, and with good reason.

“It’s the Wild West. We don’t know what’s happening and it’s better to understand this now rather than 20 years from now and we’ll have another crisis on our hands, possibly,” Dr. Meunch said.

Experts say awareness of breathing and anxious feelings is the first step to deal with email apnea. They also recommend patients take a five-minute break every hour from the computer.

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