Difference Between Yawning and Sighing (With Table)

There are various reflexive and non-reflexive actions of human bodies that we experience in our daily life. While we never really look closely at them or learn too much about them, they regulate many processes inside our body and indicate many human practicalities. Two such actions are yawning and sighing.

Yawning vs Sighing

The difference between yawning and sighing is that sighing is largely dependent on the nervous system of the body whereas sighing depends on the respiratory system of the body. Furthermore, yawning and sighing can be differentiated on their causes, signs, and symptoms, etc.

Yawning is a body’s reflex that includes inhaling of air and stretching of eardrums followed by relaxation by exhaling of breath and a few teardrops sometimes. It is a common process in almost all the organisms that sleep and is a form of paralinguistic respiration.

Sighing refers to the single exhalation of air out of noise or mouth to communicate some specific emotions. Unlike yawning, sighing is only sometimes a body’s reflex and not always a self-controlled habitual action. Like yawning, sighing is also a form of paralinguistic respiration.

Comparison Table Between Yawning and Sighing

Parameters of ComparisonYawningSighing
DefinitionInhaling and exhaling of air as communication.Sudden exhalation of air.
NounYawn.Sigh.
CausesIt is caused by restlessness.It is caused by emotions or conditions.
DependencyNervous System.Respiratory System.
Health ConditionIt is rarely related to health conditions.It can be a sign of a medical condition.

What is Yawning?

Yawning is a body’s reflex that includes inhaling of air and stretching of eardrums followed by relaxation by exhaling of breath and a few teardrops sometimes. It is a common process in almost all the organisms that sleep and is a form of paralinguistic respiration. Yawning most often occurs before sleeping but it can also occur afterward. According to experts, yawning is considered contagious.

There can be many causes of yawning including tiredness, lethargy, sleepiness, boredom, and hunger, etc. Furthermore, it can also be caused by the perception that someone else is visibly yawning in front of someone. In scientific terms, yawning is caused when the level of carbon dioxide in the body increases and the body responds by inhaling and exhaling air. While yawning, a specific muscle named the tensor tympani in the ear starts contracting. This creates a rumbling noise seemed to be perceived from the head.

Over the years, there have been many differentiable studies and theories that attempted to explain the causes of yawning in beings. However, there is little scientific agreement on any one of them being the primary cause. Only the actions observed practically tell the causes of yawning clearly.

What is Sighing?

Sighing refers to the single exhalation of air out of noise or mouth to communicate some specific emotions. Unlike yawning, sighing is only sometimes a body’s reflex and not always a self-controlled habitual action. Scientifically, sighing can help prevent the reduction of air exchange that takes place in the lungs. Since sighing is an elongated breath, it reinflates the lungs with fresh air.

There are various instances in which a person sighs which include both positive and negative emotions. From positive emotions, a sigh arises following a sense of relief in response to avoiding or ending a negative situation. On the other hand, from negative emotions, a sigh may arise from a feeling of dismay, dissatisfaction, futility, etc. Furthermore, studies suggest that sighing is also related to conditions of unbalanced emotional stability such as anxiety, depression, and stress, etc.

Sighing may also be a sign of an underlying health condition. Excessive sighing can also occur along with some respiratory conditions including Asthma, COPD, etc. Such situations need a professional diagnosis for treatment. Not only in human beings but sighing can also be observed in other beings as well including dogs, horses, cats, etc., following identical causes.

Main Differences Between Yawning and Sighing

  1. Yawning is a contagious activity whereas sighing is not.
  2. Yawning is mostly unrelated to serious health conditions whereas sighing can be a sign of a life-threatening health condition.
  3. Yawning is largely dependent on the nervous system of the body whereas sighing is dependent on the respiratory system.
  4. Yawning is mostly caused by sleepiness or restlessness whereas sighing is a result of positive and negative emotions.
  5. Yawning is a body’s reflex whereas sighing is mostly a habitual response.

Conclusion

Yawning and sighing are quite often confused with each other due to various factors. As the two terms carry practical similarities including a sudden inhaling and exhaling of air, they are often used interchangeably. Scientifically, the two are completely different processes and they vary in almost all of their scientific characteristics.

While yawning is a contagious activity, sighing is not. This means that yawning can occur in response to someone else visibly yawning nearby. Studies suggest that contagious yawning is more often observed in strongly bonded individuals. On the other hand, sighing is the body’s response to one’s personal emotions only. Due to this factor and a few others, yawning is studied to be closely related to the nervous system unlike sighing, which is only related to the respiratory system.

Regardless of the differences, both yawning and sighing are forms of Paralanguage. Paralanguage refers to conscious or unconscious communication of emotions through techniques such as pitch, volume, expressions, etc. Furthermore, the two processes regulate the flow of air and indirectly help in the respiratory functions of the body.

Sighing can also be a sign of an underlying health condition. Excessive sighing might not show serious symptoms for some people, it is always recommended to get the condition diagnosed to prevent other serious problems. Even though the two terms are confusing, interchangeably using them makes the statement conceptually incorrect. It can change the meaning altogether or make the sentence senseless.

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC497319/
  2. https://www.cell.com/current-biology/pdf/S0960-9822(16)31055-7.pdf
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