Most people sigh approximately 12 times every hour, while awake. This means that you are probably sighing about once every 5 minutes, all day, every day.
Jack Feldman, Ph.D., a distinguished professor of neurobiology at UCLA and author of a recent study about sighing, conducted recent research which showed the importance of sighing for maintaining proper lung function. In addition, sighing is also thought to be correlated with reducing stress and frustration, and helping to control emotions.
1. Sighing keeps your lungs functioning.
Sighing is essentially the process of taking one big breath. Feldman explains, “Every sign starts out as a normal breath, but then you add another breath on top of it.” When you do this throughout the course of the day, these double-breaths can add up and become a regular part of your breathing routine. This helps to keep the millions of alveoli inflated. The alveoli, as explained by Feldman, are like small balloons that hold air when you take in a breath. The alveoli are important for delivering oxygen to your blood so that it can be pumped through the heart and circulated around your body. Alveoli can occasionally collapse, and Feldman describes the process of reinflation as similar to “trying to blow air into a wet balloon.”
Sighing helps to bring extra air into the lungs and can help to force the alveoli to reinflate. Feldman suggests that, without sighing, your deflated alveoli would not reinflate, and your lungs would eventually fail.
2. Sighing occurs more when you are stressed.
Any time that you are feeling stressed, your body experiences certain chemical reactions. Specifically, you will likely experience a “fight or flight” experience, where quick, shallow breathing is common. This can lead to increased frequency of sighing.
Feldman explains, “We’ve found in rats or mice that if you inject them with certain stress chemicals, sighing increases more than 10-fold.” Sighing helps your body fight the helplessness that can accompany stress. The deep breathing patterns can help reduce anxiety and counteract stress.
3. Sighing helps you reset your emotions and better regulate your moods.
Sighing not only helps your lung function and improves your overall physical health, but it can also help you to control your moods and emotions. Professor Karl Haylor Teigen, professor emeritus at the University of Oslo, states, “In a previous age, signs were seen as expressions of romantic and spiritual longing.”
This may remind you of old time cartoons, or classic black-and-white movies, where sighing is used to express emotion. Today, sighing is often perceived as an expression of sadness, frustration, or exasperation.
Teigen expressed that sighing may accompany feelings of giving something up or moving on, which is a type of emotional resetting that can help you relax and move forward.
So, go ahead, take a deep breath, expand your lungs, release some stress, and emotionally reset by allowing yourself to sigh when needed.