Do you have Screen Apnea? by Dr. Quinn Hand, BHSc, ND | #WellBeingWednesday

Surprised redhead girl with laptop

As I was sitting in a seminar a few weekends ago learning about genetics, the presenter brought up the impact of stress and lack of oxygenation on our genes and the fact such factors can cause our cells (and us) to age and die faster. He then referenced the seemingly benign act we each engage in everyday that may be expediting this process – screen time. This screen time has been dubbed to cause something called screen apnea. Understanding the perils of sleep apnea (shallow or intermittent pauses in breathing while sleeping), I thought, “Yikes! That can’t be a good thing!”

First coined by Linda Stone in 2008, screen apnea (or email apnea) refers to shallow breathing or breath holding while working on email, or while working or playing in front of a screen. Linda notes that while we have a greater tendency toward email apnea or screen apnea, while emailing and texting on laptops and smartphones, we are at risk for breath holding or shallow breathing in front of any screen, any time. Not only does this increase stress levels, it impacts our attitude, our sense of emotional well-being, and our ability to work effectively.

This prompted me to start paying attention to my own breathing more closely while working, surfing and watching TV. Turns out, I was indeed holding my breath at times, even with my knowledge as a naturopathic doctor. What this shows is just how unconscious the act is.

But, why are we falling prey to this? As Linda Stone has indicated, our posture is often compromised, especially when we use laptops and smartphones. Arms and shoulders forward, we sit in a way where it’s impossible to get a healthy, full inhale and exhale. Furthermore, anticipation is generally accompanied by an inhale – and email, texting, and viewing television shows generally includes a significant dose of anticipation.

What’s the fix? Well, there are a variety of ways we can become more conscious computer users, but I thought I’d share a few simplistic strategies; ones I have been trying to use too:

1. Be present with yourself: Try to bring awareness to your body and your breath as you are engaging in screen time. Check your posture, and think about breathing down into your belly, like a baby.

2. Consciously connect: Instead of sending an email to your colleague, try walking to their office down the hall and engage in human contact.

3. Break it up: Use your fit bit, outlook reminders or an alarm in your phone to remind you to get up at least every hour to walk around, grab a glass of water or stretch.

Breathe it out: Try some focused breathing techniques for 5-10 minutes per day, especially if you notice you have been holding your breath.

Ultimately, we should also try to turn it all off…once in a while, at least.


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Dr. Quinn Hand is founder and clinical director of Q Wellness, she is also a licensed Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine. Dr. Hand is a member of the Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors and the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors. Tp learn more visit: Q Wellness