Calculus: Hyperbolic Trigonometry, I

love hyperbolic trigonometry.  I always include it when I teach calculus, as I think it is important for students to see.  Why?

  1.  Many applications in the sciences use hyperbolic trigonometry; for example, the use of Laplace transforms in solving differential equations, various applications in physics, modeling population growth (the logistic model is a hyperbolic tangent curve);
  2. Hyperbolic trigonometric substitutions are, in many instances, easier than circular trigonometric substitutions, especially when a substitution involving \tan(x) or \sec(x) is involved;
  3. Students get to see another form of trigonometry, and compare the new form with the old;
  4. Hyperbolic trigonometry is fun.

OK, maybe that last reason is a bit of hyperbole (though not for me).

Not everyone thinks this way.  I once had a colleague who told me she did not teach hyperbolic trigonometry because it wasn’t on the AP exam.  What do you say to someone who says that?  I dunno….

In any case, I want to introduce the subject here for you, and show you some interesting aspects of hyperbolic trigonometry.  I’m going to stray from my habit of not discussing things you can find anywhere online, since in order to get to the better stuff, you need to know the basics.  I’ll move fairly quickly through the introductory concepts, though.

The hyperbolic cosine and sine are defined by

\cosh(x)=\dfrac{e^x+e^{-x}}2,\quad\sinh(x)=\dfrac{e^x-e^{-x}}2,\quad x\in\mathbb{R}.

I will admit that when I introduce this definition, I don’t have an accessible, simple motivation for doing so.  I usually say we’ll learn a lot more as we work with these definitions, so if anyone has a good idea in this regard, I’d be interested to hear it.

The graphs of these curves are shown below.


The graph of \cosh(x) is shown in blue, and the graph of \sinh(x) is shown in red.  The dashed orange graph is y=e^{x}/2, which is easily seen to be asymptotic to both graphs.

Parallels to the circular trigonometric functions are already apparent:  y=\cosh(x) is an even function, just like y=\cos(x).  Similarly, \sinh(x) is odd, just like \sin(x).

Another parallel which is only slight less apparent is the fundamental relationship


Thus, (\cosh(x),\sinh(x)) lies on a unit hyperbola, much like (\cos(x),\sin(x)) lies on a unit circle.

While there isn’t a simple parallel with circular trigonometry, there is an interesting way to characterize \cosh(x) and \sinh(x).  Recall that given any function f(x), we may define

E(x)=\dfrac{f(x)+f(-x)}2,\quad O(x)=\dfrac{f(x)-f(-x)}2

to be the even and odd parts of f(x), respectively.  So we might simply say that \cosh(x) and \sinh(x) are the even and odd parts of e^x, respectively.

There are also many properties of the hyperbolic trigonometric functions which are reminiscent of their circular counterparts.  For example, we have




None of these are especially difficult to prove using the definitions.  It turns out that while there are many similarities, there are subtle differences.  For example,


That is, while some circular trigonometric formulas become hyperbolic just by changing \cos(x) to \cosh(x) and \sin(x) to \sinh(x), sometimes changes of sign are necessary.

These changes of sign from circular formulas are typical when working with hyperbolic trigonometry.  One particularly interesting place the change of sign arises is when considering differential equations, although given that I’m bringing hyperbolic trigonometry into a calculus class, I don’t emphasize this relationship.  But recall that \cos(x) is the unique solution to the differential equation

y''+y=0,\quad y(0)=1,\quad y'(0)=0.

Similarly, we see that \cosh(x) is the unique solution to the differential equation

y''-y=0,\quad y(0)=1,\quad y'(0)=0.

Again, the parallel is striking, and the difference subtle.

Of course it is straightforward to see from the definitions that (\cosh(x))'=\sinh(x) and (\sinh(x))'=\cosh(x).  Gone are the days of remembering signs when differentiating and integrating trigonometric functions!  This is one feature of hyperbolic trigonometric functions which students always appreciate….

Another nice feature is how well-behaved the hyperbolic tangent is (as opposed to needing to consider vertical asymptotes in the case of \tan(x)).  Below is the graph of y=\tanh(x)=\sinh(x)/\cosh(x).


The horizontal asymptotes are easily calculated from the definitions.  This looks suspiciously like the curves obtained when modeling logistic growth in populations; that is, finding solutions to


In fact, these logistic curves are hyperbolic tangents, which we will address in more detail in a later post.

One of the most interesting things about hyperbolic trigonometric functions is that their inverses have closed formulas — in striking contrast to their circular counterparts.  I usually have students work this out, either in class or as homework; the derivation is quite nice, so I’ll outline it here.

So let’s consider solving the equation x=\sinh(y) for y.  Begin with the definition:


The critical observation is that this is actually a quadratic in e^y:


All that is necessary is to solve this quadratic equation to yield


and note that x-\sqrt{1+x^2} is always negative, so that we must choose the positive sign.  Thus,


And this is just the beginning!  At this stage, I also offer more thought-provoking questions like, “Which is larger, \cosh(\ln(42)) or \ln(\cosh(42))?  These get students working with the definitions and thinking about asymptotic behavior.

Next week, I’ll go into more depth about the calculus of hyperbolic trigonometric functions.  Stay tuned!

Published by

Vince Matsko

Mathematician, educator, consultant, artist, puzzle designer, programmer, blogger, etc., etc. @cre8math

One thought on “Calculus: Hyperbolic Trigonometry, I”

  1. Vince – quite interesting. I know most of this, but the idea of sinh and cosh as the even and odd parts of e^x is new to me, and a great way to think about these functions.

    Re:hyperbolic substitutions in Calc II, there is a book available on Google books for free called Integration Using Trigonometric and Imaginary Substitutions. It teaches substitutions that we now routinely do using hyperbolic functions using imaginary substitutions, e.g. x = i*sin(theta). It overlooks a lot of complex analysis complications, but is really interesting if you have never come across it. I bet it would be right up your alley.

    Looking forward to part 2. If you have any rules of thumb as to which Calc Ii trig substitution integrals are actualy easier using hyperbolic substitution that you teach students, I hope you will share them. I’m teaching this stuff myself this summer.


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