You're not just being emo, it turns out sighing is a vital biological activity. Researchers are only just now starting to understand why and how we sigh—and what the consequences might be if we don't—but they've already made a number of significant findings.
  1. Researchers at the University of California, Los Angles and Stanford University said they have pinpointed the neural structures that tell the brain when and how to sigh.
    (PHOTO: On each side of the brain stem, a florescent-green marker illuminates the network of 200 neurons that control the sighing reflex.)
  2. Sighing stimulates neural activity, it can signal changes in behavior and reset our breathing rates. Within the respiratory system, sighing clears airways and helps tiny air sacs in the lungs, called alveoli, to absorb oxygen.
  3. Humans breathe “restorative sighs” about once every five minutes, often without noticing. The double inhalation activates the brain’s cortex, the portion responsible for emotions, speech, recognition, reasoning and other higher functions.
  4. Sighing too much? Many neurological conditions, such as anxiety, sleep apnea and sudden infant death syndrome, are linked to improper breathing. For example, people with panic disorders may sigh too much, over-stimulating the brain’s cortex and leading to problems like insomnia.
  5. Drugs that increase sighing could be developed for hospital patients who would otherwise need to go on ventilators to breathe. The new findings could also mean that other neurons within the brain’s breathing circuitry, like those that control sighing, may control yawning, coughing, laughing or gasping.