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Did You Know? What You’ve Always Wondered about Yawning

admin - September 25, 2013


Your boss catches you in a yawn and thinks you’re either tired or bored. You see your spouse yawning and it makes you yawn just seconds later. Have either of these situations ever happened to you?

Many people think that yawning is simply a sign of fatigue or boredom. This may be true, but what are the reasons behind yawning? Why do we do it, why does it seem to be contagious, and what does it signal about our health?


Why Do We Yawn?

There are many theories behind why we yawn, but there is little evidence to support them. One thing we do know, however, is that we don’t just yawn when we’re tired. Some scientists believe that yawning occurs to boost deep breathing, which our lungs need periodically to stay healthy.

The most recent research on yawning points to its role in cooling down the brain. An open-mouthed yawn makes the sinus walls expand and contract, pump air into the brain and lowering its temperature. Studies have shown that people tend to yawn more in the winter, when the air coming into the lungs is cooler, compared to summer when the air doesn’t have as much of a cooling effect on the brain.


Why is Yawning Contagious?

The belief that yawning is contagious is true. One study, highlighted in a Huffington Post article, found that when an audience was shown videos of yawning, about half of the audience also began yawning. Other studies have even shown yawns being contagious among animals.

Research has revealed, however, that yawning is more contagious among people who are close either genetically or emotionally. The closer you are to someone, the more likely you are to “catch” their yawn.

As far as the reasoning behind contagious yawns, researchers believe it’s a similar phenomenon to laughter. Rather than being a psychological occurrence, contagious yawning is more of a social occurrence.


Yawning and Health

Yawning is a perfectly natural and normal occurrence. However, excessive yawning can be a symptom of an underlying disorder or disease. Excessive yawning has been linked to the stimulation of the vagus nerve caused by a heart attack or aortic dissection. It can also be a sign of heart disease, epilepsy, stroke, a tumor, or even multiple sclerosis.

Always check with your doctor if you are experiencing strange symptoms like excessive yawning. We all yawn now and then, but excessive yawning could indicate a much bigger health issue.



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