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Screen apnea: What it means when you forget to breathe while working

If your soaring screen time stats weren’t enough to worry about, new research has revealed you might not be breathing properly while you’re working. Here’s what you need to know about screen apnea.

There’s no shortage of opinions when it comes to the health implications of our dependence on tech.

With gadgets of all shapes and sizes dedicated to monitoring our heart rates, sleep quality and active movement, it seems like there’s no better day and age for our wellbeing (cue my Apple watch nagging me to take a mindful minute to ‘reflect’).

But it seems our prolonged one-on-one time with our laptops could be triggering a chain of physiological reactions, according to experts.

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If you’ve ever noticed a shift in the quality of your breathing when you’re checking your emails, you might be experiencing screen apnea. 

The term was first coined by Linda Stone, a former high-rolling executive, after monitoring the way her regular breathing pattern was disrupted while working in front of a screen.

Why is this happening?

In a nutshell, screen apnea is just our body’s response to intense periods of mental focus and stimulation. In an attempt to conserve and redirect our energy to the task at hand, our breathing will become shallow and our heart rate will significantly slow down. 

With most people relying on multiple screens to work these days, screen apnea is fast becoming a phenomenon. 

No matter how many nights a week you spend practising Pranayama in Lululemon, your inhales and exhales might be feeling the strain of your concentration, 

For a lot of people, staring at a screen (or two) for eight hours a day is just part of their nine-to-five grind. While sporadic occurrences of screen apnea at night seem harmless, consistently being in the state all day for five days a week could have long-term impacts on the nervous system. 

Not only is the intense focus impacting our wellbeing, but the lack of movement from sitting in front of a screen all day is also contributing to screen apnea. 

“It’s a combination of not just what you’re doing but what you’re not doing,” Dr David Spiegel, director of the Center on Stress and Health at Stanford Medicine, told the New York Times.

Is this an excuse to ignore your emails?

While it might seem like ghosting your boss all day in the name of your health is the logical answer, there are a few more important takeaways from this research. 

Take a break

Deep breaths have been prescribed to many stressed patients throughout the years, but there’s actually a good reason behind it. Dr Spiegel suggests sighing loudly throughout the day can easily reset your breathing pattern. 

Experts also recommend actually scheduling breaks throughout the work day. While it may seem counterintuitive to set regular alerts to take a breath or get up and stretch, the reminders will help you get into a habit, breaking your work day up into more digestible chunks.

Minimise your devices 

What’s worse than one screen hurling notifications at you? Two! If your eyes and focus are constantly divided between work emails and Instagram reels, it’s time to utilise the ‚Do Not Disturb‘ function to limit distractions.

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