Babies Reset Their Breathing Through Sighs

To show you just how the natural processes of the body can work in interesting and fun ways, researchers in Switzerland and Australia recently posted results of a study on the effect of sighs on healthy babies. Most people sigh when they're exasperated for some unspoken reason, but babies often do the same thing... Why?

Previous studies have documented the positive effect of sighing on a baby's sigh, primarily to maintain healthy lungs. In this new study, scientists agree sighing is a good thing too, but for different reasons:

  • It may play a crucial role in naturally resetting a baby's breathing pattern
  • It also represents a mechanism for improving the memory associated with the control of breathing

Researchers say the breathing pattern in young infants, a mathematical rhythm of sorts, is controlled by a long-term memory, which is necessary for a kind of homeokinesis that leads to a breathing rate of about 40 breaths a minute. Initially, they were surprised that this long-term memory is not affected by a sigh, but because its role is to ensure long-term stability of breathing control, this makes sense.

But short-term memory, which controls breath-to-breath variability, is affected by the sigh, and seems to prepare the breathing "system" for any changes in the environment, such as noise, movement, or waking up.

EurekAlert August 12, 2004

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