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People these days are more connected than ever. But with hyperconnectivity comes health risks. It turns out that when people read email, their breathing patterns can change.
After tech visionary Linda Stone, a former top researcher at Microsoft, noticed herself holding her breath while doing email, she conducted a study to see how widespread the issue is.
She found that 80% of the people appeared to have email apnea—in other words, they held their breath or otherwise interrupted normal breathing.
It’s a condition similar to the more commonly known sleep apnea, where people breathe abnormally at night.
Stone describes email apnea as the “temporary absence or suspension of breathing, or shallow breathing, while doing email.”
Holding your breath can contribute to stress-related diseases because it throws off the body’s balance of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitric oxide, according to the National Institute of Health. Nitric oxide is especially important in fighting viral, bacterial and parasitic infections, as well as tumors.
In Stone’s research, she also found that there’s a strong relationship between breath-holding and the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is responsible for mediating the autonomic nervous system, which includes the sympathetic (“fight or flight”) and the parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) nervous systems.
The problem with holding your breath while checking email is that it puts your body in “fight or flight” mode, which shoots up your heart rate, and causes the liver to pour glucose and cholesterol into the bloodstream.
A recent study out of the University of California at Irvine found that stress levels in participants were lower when cut off from email. Participants also reported that a high amount of email is associated with a high level of stress.