Blinking: a perfectly involuntary movement we all make whenever we are awake. Whether you wear glasses, daily disposable lenses, extended wear contacts or nothing at all, we all blink, all the time. In fact, the only time people don’t blink is when their eyes are closed, such as during sleep for instance. While awake, the average person blinks between 15-20 times per minute. That means that about every three seconds or so you blink. Sure, we’ve all played those stare-down games, where two people awkwardly glare into each other’s eyes, each widening their own in an effort not to blink. But within a few seconds your eyes suddenly feel almost dry, and, well, you want nothing more than to just blink. And then, before you know it, you go ahead and momentarily shut your eyes, ending the game. Ever wondered why people blink? What’s it all about anyway? Turns out, blinking is a fairly important job, and while it occurs involuntary, it’s just something our bodies have got to do. Keep reading and we’ll explain why.
A blink only lasts about a tenth of a second—way faster than we can even attempt to count. But in that very small amount of time, a big job gets done. Each time we blink, our eyeballs get lubricated, keeping them moist and healthy. That’s right, every three seconds a mixture of oil and other secretions, created by our tear glands, spreads across our eyes, preventing them from the many causes of dry eyes. Another important job of blinking is to clean out our eyes at the same time. Fine particulates, such as pollen, animal dander and smoke can drift into our eyes, causing irritation. Although there are various ways to flush debris from your eyes, blink is the most natural way. When your body blinks and sends the soothing layer of lubrication across our eyes, these particles can be removed by being pushed out of the eye. Pretty nifty, huh?
Over the past few years, scientists have begun to wonder if these are the only reasons why people blink. Sure, they are absolutely good reasons to do the job, but they’ve been left wondering if there’s too much blinking going on to account for just those two jobs. That is to say, we blink way too much and too often, and, well, they’ve begun scratching their heads over exactly why. They believe our eyes could be sufficiently lubricated with a more infrequent blinking pattern. After conducting research, they have offered the hypothesis that blinking also serves as a way for our brains to take a quick break during waking hours. The effects on the eyes of not getting enough sleep are myriad, and this natural tendency may be a preventative measure. Even though it is only a snap of a second, it just may be enough time for our brains to refocus, allowing us to pay greater attention once we reopen them. We are so incredibly stimulated by everything going on around us—colors, sounds, movements, scents – that it can quickly become overwhelming. Taking these tiny minutes of time to momentarily pause and realign focus would be a great asset for our minds.
Perhaps what’s even more interesting is that our minds don’t actually register as ‘turning off’ when we blink. It happens so fast, that the mind is able to keep a continuous flow of sight and alertness despite repeatedly closing our eyes. That’s because when we blink, several areas of our brain that are responsible for alerting us to changes in the environment are essentially turned off —so the darkness never registers and we believe we see everything in a continuous movement.
So next time you play the blinking game, you can dazzle your opponent with all this handy, important knowledge about blinking. Who knows, maybe it’ll distract them and you’ll win. Just don’t play too long, because, ya know, blinking is actually really, really good for you.