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Blog Sleep & Wellness

Why Do We Yawn? 5 Facts That Might Surprise You

Why Do We Yawn? 5 Facts That Might Surprise You

Human beings, mammals, reptiles, even some fish - the yawn is a surprisingly universal gesture. But why do we yawn? Yawning has a surprisingly wide range of triggers - boredom, stress, sleepiness, and hunger are just some of the known emotions to cause yawning. Simply reading this might be causing you to yawn!

Researchers have done extensive studies looking into the potential reasons behind contagious yawning, as well as exactly what it is that causes people to yawn.

Here are some things about yawning that you might not know:

#1 Yawning might help bring more oxygen into the blood

So why do we yawn, exactly? Yawning is an involuntary reaction released by the body, and one of the main theories for why this happens is that it allows the body to take in more oxygen into the blood, while simultaneously moving carbon dioxide out.

Some researchers dismiss this theory, since breathing higher amounts of oxygen does not reduce yawning, and breathing more carbon dioxide doesn’t increase yawning either.

#2 Yawning might help your body regulate brain temperature

Yawning might help your body regulate brain temperature

Another one of the most popular theories surrounding why people yawn is about brain temperature regulation. In a study conducted at the University of Vienna, researchers found yawning occurs far less during the winter. So why do we yawn less in the winter?

Popular theories suggest that inhaling a large amount of air can help you cool down. This theory is also helpful in explaining why it is we yawn when we’re tired, or bored - when the body is inactive, the brain slows down, and this causes a drop in basal temperature.

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#3 Yawning might be your body’s way of keeping you awake

One theory a lot of researchers have looked into when it comes to yawning is it’s connection to sleep deprivation. Why do we yawn more often when we’re sleepy? One explanation for this might be that by stretching out the lungs and their tissues, the body is able to flex its muscles and joints, thereby waking the body up.

When you yawn, your body is also forcing blood to rush to your face, which can help the brain increase alertness and attention at a time it really needs it.

#4 Yawning is contagious

If yawning is the body’s response to temperature or fatigue, why do we yawn when we see a friend or colleague do so?

Researchers at Baylor University in Texas found that individuals with high levels of empathy and sympathetic tendencies were far more likely to mimic yawning than those who did not.

#5 Excessive yawning is worth getting checked by your physician

Excessive yawning is worth getting checked by your physician

If you find yourself yawning an excessive amount, or find that yawning is getting in the way of you being able to go about your day productively, then it’s worth trying to get checked out by a physician.

You’re likely going to be asked to do an electroencephalogram, also known as an EEG, to make sure nothing is affecting your brain. Excessive yawning can be caused because of a couple of different reasons. These include:

  • Sleep disorders such as narcolepsy, sleep apnea, or insomnia.
  • Side effects of medication, especially selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that might be used in the treatment of chronic mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety.
  • More serious illnesses, ranging from epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and even potential liver failure.

It’s helpful to keep in mind that it is pretty rare for excessive yawning to become a persistent symptom, but it’s always better to consult with your physician if you’re not sure what the source of your yawning might be.

How Do I Stop Yawning And Get Better Sleep?

How Do I Stop Yawning And Get Better Sleep?

Why do we yawn more if we’re sleep-deprived? Poor sleep can lead to a decrease in focus, energy, and even basal body temperature.

If you want to minimize how often you yawn, a few simple lifestyle changes can make a world of difference. One of the simplest ways to keep your yawning to a minimum is by getting eight hours of consistent sleep, every night.

There are a couple of different ways you can ensure you’re setting yourself up for success when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. This includes:

  • Investing in the most comfortable mattress for you. Whether it’s a hybrid mattress or memory foam mattress, finding something compatible with your sleeping position and sleep style is incredibly important to get a good, full night’s sleep.
  • Give your bedroom a little makeover. Sometimes our spaces feel stale, and hitting the reset button on some bedroom decor might be all that it takes to get things feeling cozy. Think about swapping out your rug, adding a few throw pillows, or even switching up your lighting.
  • Developing healthy sleep hygiene practices. A good bedtime routine is at the core of healthy sleep hygiene. This might look different depending on what you find comforting, what works for you, and your personal responsibilities, but some good rules of thumb include staying away from your phone, keeping calm, eating healthy, and staying away from excessive caffeine.

Why Do We Yawn When We’re Not Sleepy?

Convinced you already have the best mattress for a comfortable night’s sleep, but still find yourself yawning in the middle of an important meeting? Why do we yawn if we’re not sleep-deprived?

As we’ve seen, a few theories exist about the real reason behind yawning. Here are some solutions that might help:

  • Take a deep breath. Inhaling deeply through your nose has been found to be an effective way to minimize contagious yawning. The next time you feel yourself about to yawn, take a deep inhale to see if this helps.
  • Workout first thing in the morning. Engaging your body in physical activity can go a long way in helping you stretch your muscles out and preventing feelings of fatigue or boredom. Why do we yawn when doing mundane tasks? A lack of focus can prevent us from staying plugged into our work, and exercising can help with this.
  • Try cooling your body down. Though research on this remains inconclusive, one way to try and encourage a good night’s sleep might simply be to find a cooler space. If that isn’t quite an option, try sipping cold water, or enjoying chilled fruit as a snack, to keep your body alert.

Why do we yawn? The truth is this mysterious bodily reflex, one that occurs across all species, is understood differently across disciplines and experts. To minimize yawning, try getting better sleep, staying active, and staying focused on the tasks at hand. And remember: if you can’t stifle a yawn when you see a friend doing the same, it just means you have plenty of empathy to spare!

Your Turn...

Do you always yawn? Share your thoughts in the comments. 

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Disclaimer. We love sleep and we want you to get the best sleep possible. But we do not provide medical advice. This blog is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical info, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our blog.

Certified Sleep Science Coach

Written by Teresa Francis, Certified Sleep Science Coach

Teresa Francis is a Certified Sleep Science Coach and full-time writer focused on well-being and sleep health. She’s written on a variety of topics, from what’s trending in bedroom decor to the way lifestyle influences sleep. Some of the subject areas she covers for Puffy include the best foods for better sleep, how new parents can catch up on rest, and the best way to become a morning person. Teresa has a Master’s Degree in Literature, and has always believed in the power of a good bedtime story.

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