Why do we rub our faces when tired?
September 2, 2009 1:27 PM   Subscribe

Why do we rub our faces more when we're tired?

When tired, why do we have the need to give our face - particularly the forehead - a rub? Babies seem to do it more than adults, but maybe that's because they're not socially conditioned yet not to do it.

Do other animals do this?
posted by stenoboy to Science & Nature (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My sense is that putting up with any kind of discomfort is harder when I'm tired. If my face itches when I'm wide awake, I leave it alone. If it itches when I'm tired, even just a little, I scratch. Dunno if that's the whole story, but it might be part of it.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:30 PM on September 2, 2009

Just guessing here, but after a lot of mental work, my facial/head muscles get knotted up (possibly from all the frowning I do as I work on problems).

Rubbing my face/head/hair is then a way to massage the muscles into relaxing.

In fact, I can feel the pressure in my forehead right now...
posted by IAmBroom at 1:37 PM on September 2, 2009

Stimulation. There's a lot of nerves in the face and stimulating yourself helps keep you awake.
posted by GuyZero at 1:44 PM on September 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

Men who shave do it to remind ourselves how long it has been since we cleaned up. More beard scratch = more we deserve to feel as tired as we do.
posted by paulsc at 1:49 PM on September 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

Do other animals do this?

My cats do. They're a wreck if they don't get at least 18 hours of sleep a day.
posted by birdherder at 1:54 PM on September 2, 2009 [12 favorites]

Oh I am notorious for this. It just feels good, but I can't pinpoint a reason for doing it.
posted by sephira at 2:05 PM on September 2, 2009

I think IAmBroom has it - when I'm tried or stressed or whatever, my face - especially the regions round the eyes - feel mighty inflexible. A quick massage tends to loosen them up (with the bang-on effect of blacking out the world for a few private, precious seconds)
posted by EatTheWeak at 2:09 PM on September 2, 2009

When I'm tired my face gets all tight and tingly (particularly my forehead and between my eyes). So I rub it. Also my eyes get sore and sensitive so I rub them. Same thing when I've just got to work and the caffeine hasn't kicked in yet, face goes weird so I rub it to make it feel better and try to make myself feel more alert (I was doing this right before I saw your question).

This just moves the question though. Why does my face go all tight and weird when I'm tired? There seems to be some physiological mechanism working there but I don't know what it is.
posted by shelleycat at 2:12 PM on September 2, 2009

When you're reading for a long time you don't blink as often; the lack of tears moved by blinking will be what causes the soreness. Rubbing around the eyes is probably a reaction to this. The 'knotted brow' is again a sign of concentration, and rubbing the forehead could be reacting to tension in those muscles.

The more general rubbing of the face, I don't know. I do know that the trigeminal nerve (which is the sensory nerve for the face), enters the brain at the thalamus, and that the thalamus has sleep/wake functions. But I don't know any more than that, and it could be sheer coincidence.
posted by Coobeastie at 2:21 PM on September 2, 2009

A lot of time when I'm tired or stressed out I'll get a headache. Rubbing helps alleviate the pressure a little.
posted by kylej at 2:44 PM on September 2, 2009

babies do this. it doesn't seem like a learned behavior.
posted by nadawi at 2:57 PM on September 2, 2009

I knew this girl who worked at a daycare with little kids, and one of the tricks they had for getting a toddler ready to sleep at nap time was rubbing the kid's forehead. I've actually seen it done and it works for some reason.

I have the same instinct to want to rub (or even just lightly touch) my face when feeling tired.

My feeling is that it is more of a yearning for comfort, akin to resting your face on a pillow (or bosom!), rather than an attempt to make yourself feel more awake.
posted by orme at 4:42 PM on September 2, 2009

Well, to answer the animal part of your question: Yes, I have seen my cats rub their faces, in a way, as they get ready to sleep. They'll lay on their sides and squish their head to the ground using a paw. It's not quite the same as humans, since when the hell would an animal force itself to stay awake, right?
posted by FuManchu at 4:52 PM on September 2, 2009

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