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Ever open an email and read it with curiosity, anxiety, or apprehension?  Did you know that when you have these and other responses that you may be experiencing something called email apnea? Email what?!

Most people are familiar with the term sleep apnea.  Sleep apnea is a term that refers to the process of respiration, usually at night, when breathing stops and starts while you are sleeping.  Sleep apnea can be caused by large abdominal mass, neck circumference, family history, muscle relaxation in the neck, narrowed airway, smoking, nasal congestion, sinus dysfunction, or other medical conditions.  Sleep apnea is positional and occurs without conscious awareness. Although email apnea is not caused by a certain position and occurs with conscious awareness, it does involve the temporary pausing of the breath.

Email apnea is shallow breathing or breath-holding while you are reading emails, texts, or when the alarm on your phone goes off.  It can also be deemed screen apnea as it can be associated with any screened device you use.  Screen apnea can happen when texting, responding on social media, or when playing video games.  People often do this in anticipation of what they are about to read, see, or do. 

To add fuel to the fire, our posture is often compromised when we are using our laptops or smartphones—making it challenging to get a healthy inhale and exhale.  In anticipation of information, we may take a big inhale but then we don’t follow it up with a healthy, full exhale.  

Why is shallow breathing, incomplete breathing, or breath-holding unhealthy for us? 

When we regularly don’t breathe well, day after day, it can lead to decreased efficiency in our body due to oxygen deprivation and habits that don’t allow us to completely optimize our lung function. This decreases our ability to get optimal oxygen to our body’s various tissues including organs, muscles, and nerves.  When we don’t get efficient oxygen exchange, we don’t get rid of carbon dioxide as easily.  Less overall oxygen to the body can increase fatigue, impact and weaken the immune system, impair brain function, impact our adrenal function, and decrease our overall organ and metabolic efficiency.  

How can we remedy this?  

Awareness is the biggest and most important change to start with.  

1.  Check your posture.  

Sit back and up

Drop your shoulders

This posture reset will align your rib cage, lungs, and breathing muscles for greater efficiency.  The pathways for air exchange are more direct, leading to easier airflow.

2.  Take note of your breathing throughout the day

Is your breathing full and deep or constricted and shallow?  

Check this when you are putting on make-up, styling your hair, washing the dishes, or driving in the car. 

Do you pause and hold your breath with activity throughout the day?  Take note of any time you are holding your breath. What do you do when you hear a notification on your phone or computer. Try taking a pause and a cleansing breath before answering it.

If you notice you are holding your breath, focus on the exhale.  Breath out slowly and as completely but as comfortably as possible.  Do it slowly.  Then follow it up with a slow, relaxed inhale. Long, gentle exhales will help you take more efficient inhales to allow air in and out.  It also helps your diaphragm, the largest and most efficient muscle of respiration, to work optimally

You can start conscious breathing by focusing on the timing of your breath. It may be helpful to perform a 3/3/3 breath—this means to breathe in slowly with ease for 3 seconds, pause for 3 seconds, then breathe out slowly for 3 seconds.  Try this about 3 times every hour or two.  You can also take 5-10 minutes a day to practice it.  Breathing exercises, such as the 3/3/3 breath, is the foundation of mindfulness and meditation.  When you are focusing on your breathing consciously, you are also practicing meditation.  

The bottom line is that breath practice and good breathing strategies are integral aspects of optimal health.  What’s great is that they are a simple, easy way to improve your health throughout the day. So take a breath and cheers to your health! 

*Thanks to Hackensack Meridian Health and Sharon Salzberg with Insight Timer for serving as a reference for this post. 

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