Yawning is a reflex and is a behavior that still stumps scientists today. The exact cause and function of yawning is unknown, but there are several theories about it. This post will explore the theories behind yawning and what can be done about it.
Yawning is a reflex that is controlled by different regions in the brain.
There are multiple theories about yawning, but none have been scientifically proven.
Contagious yawning is an unexplained phenomenon thought to be about social cues.
Excessive yawning can be a sign of a medical condition.
Why do we yawn?
Yawning is an involuntary reflex that is controlled by multiple brain regions, including the cortex, limbic system, hypothalamus, brain stem and prefrontal cortex. Several neuroactive agents, including dopamine and oxytocin, are also released during yawning.
There are several theories about why we yawn.
Many scientists speculate that yawning serves as a form of communication between individuals. While we commonly associate yawns with boredom or tiredness, they can also indicate empathy. Studies suggest that people are more likely to yawn in response to seeing someone else yawn, especially if they have a close relationship with that person.
When we yawn, we stretch out our lungs and tissues and take in more oxygen-rich blood. When our brain is low on oxygen-rich blood, it may send out a signal to yawn to take in more oxygen for us.
Yawning also serves a purpose in regulating the pressure inside our heads and bodies. For instance, during airplane travel, yawning helps us adjust the pressure inside our ears.
The alertness theory suggests that yawning serves to boost alertness. Yawning stimulates an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, promoting wakefulness and enhancing our concentration. Although most studies have not observed changes in brain waves as a result of yawning, they do support the idea that yawning heightens our state of alertness.
An alternative theory suggests that yawning serves to regulate brain temperature. The brain is a highly active organ that generates significant heat. Yawning is hypothesized to help cool the brain by promoting increased blood circulation to the head and neck.
Are you yawning as a result of reading this?
The contagious yawn
Contagious yawning refers to the phenomenon where individuals yawn after witnessing someone else yawning. This behavior is commonly observed in humans and certain social animals. While the exact reason for contagious yawning is still not fully understood, several theories have been proposed to explain this intriguing occurrence.
One theory suggests that yawning serves as a method to regulate body temperature when individuals are in the same climate. The idea is that yawning helps cool down the brain and maintain proper temperature regulation. Therefore, it's possible that when two people are in the same temperature environment, they instinctively yawn in response to each other, helping to adjust their body temperatures.
Another theory is that it is a social group behavior response. Similar to an automatic reflex or instinct, it shows an empathetic response to the person yawning. It could also be a reflex stimulating a group to be more awake and alert as well.
How to stop yawning
Yawning is an automatic reflex, and you may not be able to stop it. When yawning occurs at an inappropriate moment or in front of the wrong individual, it can lead to feelings of embarrassment. Yawning may cause others to think you are disinterested in someone or something. If you struggle with untimely yawning, there are a few potential solutions that you can explore.
- Deep breathing. Breathe in deeply to fill your lungs with air to increase the amount of oxygen you are taking in.
- Move around. It is advisable to engage in physical activity and change positions to stimulate alertness.
- Drink cold water. Drinking cold water may help lower your body temperature if your yawning is triggered by a response to regulating your temperature.
- Get good sleep. To prevent yawning during the day, it is important to prioritize getting sufficient sleep. Lack of sleep can lead to sleepiness and subsequently result in yawning.
Excessive yawning can sometimes indicate underlying medical conditions. If you experience frequent and persistent episodes of excessive yawning, you should seek advice from a healthcare professional. Several medical conditions may potentially be correlated with episodes of excessive yawning:
- Neurological conditions. Yawning excessively could be a sign of neurological conditions such as strokes, tumors, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis.
- Sleep issues. Conditions like sleep apnea, insomnia, and narcolepsy may lead to excessive yawning.
- Medications. Some medications can have excessive yawning as a side effect, so it's worth exploring this possibility with a medical professional.
If you find yourself yawning excessively, it's important to consult with your doctor as this could be a potential symptom of an underlying medical condition.
Yawning is a behavior that continues to intrigue scientists. While theories exist about why we yawn, no definitive evidence supports an explanation. If you yawn excessively during the day, it might be helpful to establish a sleep routine. If you have concerns about excessive yawning, seeking guidance and advice from your doctor is recommended.
How long does yawning last?
A yawn can typically last around 5 to 10 seconds.
Is yawning due to a lack of oxygen?
Sometimes yawning can be due to a lack of oxygen, but there are several other causes that can contribute to yawning, including sleepiness and boredom.
Why can't I finish a yawn?
Not being able to finish your yawn may be a sign of stress or that your nervous system isn’t regulating correctly. If this is a continuous occurrence, you should speak with your doctor.
Is it good to yawn?
Yawning is a sign that your automatic nervous system is functioning as it should. It is a normal reflex occurrence. If you are yawning excessively, though, you should see a doctor.
Can you make yourself yawn?
Yes, start to pretend or act like you are going to yawn, and it may trigger a reflex for you to yawn.
- International Journal of Applied and Basic Medical Research. Yawning and its physiological significance.
- Cleveland Clinic. Why Do You Yawn — and Is It Contagious?
- Journal of Neurology and Neuroscience. Yawning As a New Potential Diagnostic Marker for Neurological Diseases.
- Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience. Contagious Yawning and Seasonal Climate Variation.