Why Do We Yawn and How Can We Do it Less?

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Georgia Crabtree - April 29, 2020 Hi, I'm Georgia! One of the Happy Beds content writers. When I'm not here you can find me sipping a strong coffee, desperately trying to finish my novel whilst attempting to train my two naughty house bunnies!

Why Do We Yawn and How Can We Do it Less?

Yawning has long been a mystery in the world of science. All humans and vertebrates do it, but why do we yawn? It must have some benefit to us physiologically or psychologically, right? But the reason that we all do it isn’t 100% clear. 

There are, however, many theories exploring yawning and the ins and outs of this magical thing.  Let’s delve into it, shall we?

 

Take a Deep Breath

Does yawning mean lack of oxygen?” I hear you ask, and I’m here to tell you, no!

I know, I know, it’s the theory we all know and live by. When I’m yawning, it means my body needs more oxygen. But it turns out that taking a big deep breath, won’t prevent you from yawning. 

The original theory also attempted to answer the age-old question, “why do we yawn when tired?”. The theory stated that when we get tired, our breaths are much more shallow, therefore we are taking in less oxygen. Yawning then brings more oxygen into the blood and moves carbon dioxide out of it. This would make yawning an involuntary reflex to control our oxygen levels. 

Makes sense, right? Wrong!

This was disproved in 1987 when it was found that inhaling more oxygen didn’t decrease yawning and inhaling carbon dioxide doesn’t make you yawn more!

So, why do we really yawn?

 

Temperature Control

Another prominent theory is that we yawn to control the temperature of our brains. Andrew C. Gallup, a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University states, “We have collected data on rats, parakeets, and humans. All the data supports the brain-cooling hypothesis”. 

The short version of the hypothesis is as follows: when you yawn the jaw stretches, increasing blow flow into your neck, face and head. The intake of breath during a yawn forces your spinal fluid and blood downwards. The cool air you breathe in then cools these fluids, therefore, cooling the brain’s surface!                                                                                                                     

Following this theory, Gallup stated that cooler air would cool the brain better than hot air, and sure enough, he proved that people yawned more when they were out in the cold.

But…

Adrian G. Guggisberg, a physician at the University of Geneva, has an interesting counterpoint. He agrees that, yes, changes in temperature can trigger yawning, but the fact that yawning took place less in hotter countries kind of disproves this theory about brain cooling. Surely your brain needs cooling more if it’s hotter outside? 

Guggisberg states that there are other ways to cool our body temperature such as sweating, and “it is unclear why we would need another regulator which fails when it matters”. 

Furthermore, this theory doesn’t answer the question of why do we yawn when someone else does? 

 

Empathy and Social Effect

Our good friend Guggisberg states that the much-loved brain cooling theory doesn’t answer the burning question, why is yawning contagious? He prefers the social theory of yawning to the physiological theories. 

He states that “...we don’t really know why we yawn. No physiological effect of yawning has been observed so far, and that’s why we speculate. It is possible that yawning doesn’t really have a physiological effect.” 

His theory outlines that yawning is understood to be a sign of tiredness or boredom, therefore indicating to others that they are undergoing a moderately unpleasant experience. This can then trigger us to yawn! 

So really, yawning is an empathetic reaction to seeing someone else yawn? But that doesn’t explain why the first person yawned. Is yawning just a big chain reaction? 

It feels like we may never know. 

 

Can't Stop Yawning?

I know I can’t! I’ve yawned so much writing this blog post. It seems only appropriate that I share my tips on how to stop yawning with you all.

Now, we have to work with the theories that we know, so try all of them and find out what works for you!

Deep breathing through your nose has been proven to not only decrease general yawning but also contagious yawning. so try some deep breathing exercises, (or you know, being less empathetic). 

You could also try being more active. Yawning tends to signify boredom and tiredness, so get moving and focusing on other things. This one is especially helpful if you have a desk job. 

Excessive yawning can also, apparently, be as a result of too much caffeine, so cut out that coffee and hydrate with water instead. It may be doing you more harm than good! 

Finally, cool yourself down. Go for a walk outside, drink a cold drink (or eat ice cream). Wear layers to work so you can easily cool down if need be! 

The best cure for excessive yawning, I’m sure, is a wonderful big bed and a night of perfect, interrupted sleep! Let us know how you stop yawning on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook and share your tips with the rest of the Happy Beds community! 

Stop yawning and sleep instead!