Do you yawn often? Probably yes! We all do. But sometimes yawning accumulates to the point where it can be really annoying, even a real discomfort for some people. And the same is true for sighing. We all sigh. But some patients need to sigh all the time.
Often it's accompanied by a feeling of not being able to breathe properly. It's like an internal anxiety and often associated withexhaustion, internal tension,dizziness and lightheadedness. It can cause anxiety or evenpanic. This is sometimes called sigh dyspnea or sigh breathing.
What is the background of yawning and sighing? Why do we actually do it? Why does it sometimes make us feel so exhausted? Why does it not get better by breathing quickly? Is there a therapy for it?
More about breathing disorders
Why do we sigh? Of course because we don't have it easy in life! But then a sigh of relief makes little sense!
We sigh from completely different mental causes: Sadness, frustration, situation boredom, stress or surprise. We give up with a sigh and we express our relief by such a deep breath.
Besides: the sigh exists in all mammals. The smaller the more frequent! Rats, for example, indicate their relief at not being electrocuted by sighing.
In short: sighing is a very old reflex, deeply connected with our biology. Since the meaning of sighing is understood also completely independently of the language or culture world-wide.
We all sigh most often on the first day of our lives. Around 50 times per hour! Do we regret being released from security into the world? Hardly!
Of course, the whole thing has to do with the unfolding of the lungs, which the newborn has to deal with from the very first breath. Accordingly, the sighing continues to decrease during the first year of life and reaches a frequency of 20x/hour after one year. This is quite close to the adult value of around 12x/hour.
A sigh in the adult is
- usually unnoticed
- a dozen times per hour
- 2-5 times the normal respiratory volume of about 500 ml
- following a normal breath
- followed by a short pause without breathing
The frequent sighs in babies provide an important clue: sighing probably serves, at least in large part, to ventilate the alveoli, the smallest air sacs in the lungs. They are not filled with fresh air during resting breathing. So they are ventilated from time to time.
And this is no different in adults. If we did not sigh occasionally, the resistance in the lungs would increase, making breathing more difficult.
By the way: You have several hundred million of these alveoli with a total area of about 100 square meters.
Control in the brain stem
The control of breathing and therefore also of sighing lies in the brain stem (a very small area, the pre-Bötzinger complex). In order for us to breathe and sigh at the right time, the brain stem needs some information.
This information is conveyed by
- stretch receptors (mechanoreceptors) in the lungs
- Chemoreceptors for oxygen and carbon dioxide
The lower the oxygen level and the higher the carbon dioxide level, the faster we breathe, andstudies showed that our circulatory system responds to sighing. We may be able to calm stress responses of the circulatory system again with deeper breathing.
Small reset: Back to the beginning!
Our breathing is not always completely regular. So, for example, stubbornly 12 breaths per minute. It is sometimes a tad faster and then slower again. Especially during stress, these differences increase: increasing breathing rate variability.
A deep sigh-breath interrupts this irregularity again, asstudies show. Everything back to the beginning and a new cycle begins. Sighing, according to someauthors, can thus be understood as a "reset" for breathing.
False choking alarm
For some people, however, the perception of CO2 in the blood is problematic and somewhat too finely regulated. For example, someone who has almost drowned while swimming, two things have come together directly: High CO2 in the blood and danger to life. As a result, sensitivity to carbon dioxide in the blood may increase and the level is set lower.
The same is probably true for panic attacks or anxiety disorders in general. These people are then more anxious, more jumpy, and they don't tolerate being in confined spaces with many people well, because the CO2 concentration is particularly high there.
So in such cases, the lungs overreact to even the smallest changes in CO2 and trigger this protective breathing reflex too quickly and too frequently.
In our measurements, we found that as a result of increased sensitivity to CO2, the carbon dioxide concentration in the blood is regulated too low. Via various detours, this leads to reduced blood flow to the brain with typical symptoms:
- concentration problems
- Head pressure or headache
- Visual disturbances
More on the pages abouthyperventilation
Yawning is a phenomenon that is surprisingly poorly understood. All humans yawn, at least now and then. Animals do it too, e.g. dogs, horses, lions and even fish. But why? That is ultimately still unexplained and not solely due to fatigue. Highly different forms of yawning are observed in animals.
There are some interesting facts:
- Yawning lasts around 6 seconds
- Animals use yawning partly as a gesture of appeasement partly also as a threat
- There are close relationships with stretching
- Yawning can increase during stress as well as fatigue
- Yawning is more frequent in the morning and evening, but only accompanied by stretching in the morning.
- Predators yawn more often than herbivores
- Yawning is contagious, which can be explained by the activation of mirror neurons. Patients with impaired ability to empathize (in dissocial, autistic disorder or schizophrenia) yawning is not contagious
- Yawning might contribute to temperature regulation and promote brain cooling
- Yawning does occur more frequently in fatigue - but it does not make you feel awake
- Yawning can occur more frequently in a number of brain diseases (e.g. stroke), as well as with certain medications (especially psychotropic drugs).
- Various neurotransmitters (including oxytocin and dopamine) play a role in increased yawning.
It is clear that yawning is an extremely old reflex that has a close relationship to the respiratory center of the brain. At the same time, yawning has a social, communicative meaning and possibly contributes to harmonization of group activities.
There is a comparatively common symptomatology in which people report that they suffer from the need to yawn repeatedly and at the same time have the feeling that they cannot breathe properly or take a deep breath.
Often these complaints are combined with other symptoms:
- Frequent sighing
- Pressure on the chest
- Feeling of anxiety in stuffy rooms with a lot of people
- Sleep disturbances
- Joint or muscle pain.
Physical examination does not usually reveal any pathological findings. Only a tendency to a so-called effort asthma or sensitive, "hyperreactive" bronchial system may be present.
As inexplicable as the symptoms may seem at first glance, behind them - not always, of course! - a relatively simple disorder may be hidden behind it: achronic respiratory disorder.
In this case, there is a change in the blood gases with a reduction in the carbon dioxide level in the blood, which has complex consequences for respiratory regulation and metabolism.
Associations with other disorders of autonomic regulation, such asfatigue syndromes and pain syndromes, also occur.
About the feeling of not being able to breathe properly
Do you know the
Do you have the feeling that you can't breathe properly? Are you missing the last bit of air? Do you occasionally have a feeling of pressure on your chest? Do you feel cramped in rooms with many people? Do you sometimes feel short of breath when you run up the stairs quickly? Do you feel exhausted?
If you answered some of these questions in the affirmative, you may learn something new on this page.
Breathing & Tension
When we humans are under stress, our entire body adjusts to a possible external threat: Muscle tension, blood pressure and attention to external stimuli increase, stress hormones circulate. Breathing also changes. We breathe faster and deeper.
This is a sensible pattern that has proven itself over many millions of years. It is aimed primarily at physical response, that is, flight or fight.
But with today's stress, physical activity often doesn't make sense. Conflicts are rarely settled with the fist. In such cases, our innate solutions often come to naught.
As a result, some people often suffer from persistently high blood pressure, severe muscle tension or constant irritability. This, of course, has consequences in the long run, such as hypertension or persistent pain.
Other people develop permanent stress breathing. This also has consequences. As a result, we take in more oxygen and release an excessive amount of carbon dioxide. Surprisingly, oxygen has little effect. Even in a normal state, in healthy people its concentration is close to the maximum (95 - 98%).
But the drop in carbon dioxide has even greater consequences. This gas has a surprisingly wide range of effects on body regulation. Only one should be mentioned here.
Carbon dioxide and blood flow
When carbon dioxide drops, the small arteries (arterioles) in the brain tighten. Blood flow decreases. This phenomenon is well known or proven by numerous studies. It is already mentioned in the newer textbooks of physiology.
It can be explained as follows: our brain feeds exclusively on sugar (glucose), which it burns with the help of oxygen to form carbon dioxide and water. If a region consumes little energy, then it makes no sense to direct a lot of blood there. So the inflow is reduced.
The opposite is also true: if a lot of sugar is burned, the concentration of carbon dioxide increases. The blood vessels are made wide to carry a lot of oxygen and sugar to the active brain regions.
However, if the concentration of carbon dioxide drops as a result of accelerated breathing during stress, the blood vessels of the brain react in the same way as if less blood were needed. - They also become narrow!
Now less oxygen and sugar reaches the brain. In some regions now a reduced blood supply occurs, although the need is completely unchanged high. Now it comes there to failure symptoms.
Regional undersupply of the brain
These vary depending on the brain region affected:
Impairment of oxygen supply: Shortness of breath, air hunger, feeling the need to breathe deeply.
Impairment ofsugar(glucose) supply: feelings of hypoglycemia and cravings.
General symptoms: Drowsiness, fatigue, impaired concentration, impaired memory, forgetfulness, fatigue.
Drop in intracranial pressure: feelings of pressure in the head, pressure behind the eyes, next to the temples, helmet pressure, hoops around the skull, pressure in the neck
Impairment of balance dizziness, disorientation, unsteadiness of gait.
Impairment ofthe visual center (visual cortex): blurred vision, changing visual acuity, tunnel vision, dizziness during fast movements
Impairment ofhearing: tinnitus, pressure in the ear, feeling as if the sounds were coming from far away.
So where does the feeling of not being able to take a breath come from?
Due to the reduced blood flow, too little oxygen actually reaches individual brain regions. So our thinking organs rightly complain about the lack of supply and report: Oxygen deficiency!
But this decrease of oxygen is not in the whole body. Who in such cases measures the oxygen at the finger, comes to normal, mostly even nearly maximum values (97 - 100%). So those who come to the emergency room with this feeling of shortness of breath risk being smiled at. "Everything is fine," the doctor there may say.
Most patients nevertheless respond by taking even deeper breaths, as well as yawning and sighing to finally get out of their shortness of breath. This is understandable in principle, but it makes it worse!
Oxygen is already saturated to the maximum in the blood. Even if we breathe maximally fast, more simply can't get in. However, accelerated breathing releases more carbon dioxide at the same time - and then the small brain vessels constrict even more. The supply of oxygen decreases! A vicious circle!
In the end, the affected patients stand at the open window and try to breathe deeper and deeper while the symptoms get worse and worse at the same time. Not infrequently, this ends in feelings of panic or panic attacks.