The expression, “Don’t blink or you?ll miss it,” has taken on a new meaning. Researchers have found that parts of the brain actually shut down every time we blink. The average person blinks about 15 times per minute. So even though the mini-blackouts are instantaneous, they add up to about nine days per year when our brain is shut down?or one or two years in an average life span.

In the 1980s, scientists devised a clever way to monitor the brain’s activity before, during and after blinking. They devised a way in which the amount of light received by the eye was constant, regardless of blinking, by placing a light-emitting optical fiber in the mouths of volunteers wearing light-blocking goggles. The light was bright enough to reach the retina by passing through the roof of the mouth. The researchers then performed magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, on the volunteers, to see how the brain would react when light was uninterrupted during blinking. They discovered that brain activity is “turned off” when we blink.

Scientists think the brain’s ability to shut down during blinking that protects us from the constant distraction and discontinuity that otherwise would result from frequent mini-blackouts.

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