Blinking is such a common occurrence that it is easy to forget that you are even doing it. It isn’t something that requires thought or effort. On average, humans blink 15-20 times per minute, which is significantly more than many other animals. Blinking 15-20 times per minute translates to the eyes being closed for about 10% of the time that you are awake. You may be asking, why do we blink at all? Or even, why do we blink so often? Blinking has been the focus of several scientific studies by doctors who were asking those same questions.
What is blinking?
The dictionary defines blinking as “to close and open one or both of the eyes rapidly”. This blink definition sets blinking apart from simply closing the eyes or even sleeping. Most people barely notice that they are blinking at all, unless they are blinking due to debris in the eye or as an attempt to lubricate a dry eye.
Why do we blink?
The most consistent reason that we have for blinking is to lubricate the eye. The eye needs to remain moist at all times and blinking is the body’s natural way of accomplishing this. The eye has oil glands that produce a natural lubricating oil. When the eyelid comes down over the eye during blinks, this oil is spread across the eyeball. You may notice that you blink more frequently when your eyes are feeling dry, or on windy days which can dry out the eyes.
Another reason for blinking is to protect the eyes from debris or foreign objects that can cause damage to the eye. The eyelashes are meant to collect any debris that could enter the eye, and when there is a threat to the eye blinking will happen more rapidly.
There are also studies that indicate blinking provides the brain with a moment of wakeful rest. This is thought to give our brains a momentary break from external stimuli and allow us to refocus our attention. There is evidence that this is why blinking happens at regular, predictable intervals based upon the activity we are partaking in. For example, during reading blinking often happens at the end of a sentence.
Blinking: a part of life
While blinking can take place as a means of protection, lubrication, or rest – one thing is certain: blinking is a constant in our lives that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.