Why We Sigh (It's a Human Reset Button)
Taking the occasional deep breath keeps the respiratory system nimble, research shows.
Scientists studying breathing patterns think they have found the reason we sigh: To reset breathing patterns that are getting out of whack and keep our respiratory system flexible.
The study entailed rigging up eight men and 34 women with sensor-equipped shirts that record their breathing, heart rates and blood carbon dioxide levels over 20 minutes of quiet sitting.
What the researchers at the University of Leuven in Belgium were looking for were specific changes over one-minute periods encompassing sighs that could confirm or contradict the "re-setter hypothesis" for the function of sighing. And they think they found it.
"Our results show that the respiratory dynamics are different before and after a sigh," writes Elke Vlemincx and her co-authors in the latest issue of the journal Biological Psychology. "We hypothesize that a sigh acts as a general re-setter of the respiratory system."
The re-setter hypothesis is based on the idea that breathing is an inherently dynamic and rather chaotic system, with all sorts of internal and external factors changing how much oxygen we need and keeping our lungs healthy and ready for action.
This sort of system requires a balance of meaningful signals and random noise to operate correctly.
Occasional noise in a physiological system -- like the respiratory system -- is essential because it enables the body to learn how to respond flexibly to the unexpected, Vlemincx said.
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