Sighs have a way of grabbing our attention. After all, we can’t help but notice when someone near us lets out the long, audible exhalation that is called a sigh.
Did you know that the average person sighs every 5 minutes (or approximately 12 times an hour)? That’s a lot! And it causes us to wonder why we sigh. Let’s see what our friends at Prevention have to say.
Maintaining Proper Lung Function
Your lungs are packed with hundreds of millions of alveoli, which Jack Feldman, Ph.D. - a professor of neurobiology at UCLA and author of a study on sighing - describes as teeny tiny balloons that inflate every time you take in a breath. These alveoli are responsible for providing oxygen to your blood, which is then pumped to the rest of your body by your heart.
Researchers at the University of Leuven in Belgium found that, when breathing in one state for too long, the lungs become stiffer and less efficient in gas exchange. Once in a while, the alveoli collapse and, when this happens, studies show that sighing works to draw more air into your lungs. This helps force all the collapsed alveoli open, making the lungs more efficient again!
When we’re stressed out, our breathing tends to become shallow and uneven. We also tend to sigh more when we’re stressed. Therefore, sighing may be a way our bodies help bring our breathing back to normal and calm us down.
Furthermore, a study published in the Journal of Biological Psychology found that the noise a person makes when they sigh produces a relaxing effect on them.
Sighing is an Emotional Expression
In addition to maintaining proper lung function and relieving stress, sighing has been associated with specific emotions for a very long time.
In our modern society, when a person sighs, observers usually interpret it to mean that the person sighing is sad. Others regard sighing as a sign that someone is giving up after they’ve had enough of a certain situation. Regardless of which emotion a sigh is expressing, it may be a way for you to emotionally “reset.”
Who would have thought that sighing plays such an important role in our daily lives? The next time your mom or dad accuses you of sighing just to get attention, you’ll be able to calmly explain the benefits that sighing provides.
Looking for more Never Stop Asking "Why?" questions? Catch up on all of the past "Why's" on the blog!