What Causes Yawning?

What Causes Yawning?

It's such a regular part of life that many people never notice the simple reflex of yawning. If you're as sensitive as about half of the population, just reading this article is likely enough to trigger a yawning reaction. But why do we yawn and what does it mean? Despite all of our study and advanced technology, we're still not quite sure. However, there are some facts we do know for sure about the humble and mysterious yawn.

Mysterious Causes

There are many theories as to why we developed the reflex action known as a yawn, but none of them have ever been conclusively proven. The leading theory for many decades was that yawning took in extra oxygen when the body was running low due to a shallow breathing pattern. However, that theory is mostly debunked now. Current science points more to the idea that a yawn helps cool down the brain by bringing in fresh air as spinal fluid and blood are drawn down from the brain by the opening of the jaw. Other theories speculate that it was a threat display used by our ancestors since it involves bearing most of our teeth, or that it has a resetting effect on some part of our internal clock. Only further study will eventually reveal what's really causing you to yawn your head off, but boredom, sleepiness, and even nervousness have all been linked to it.

Yawning in the Womb

Did you know that even developing fetuses are known to yawn? Along with unborn babies, most of the vertebrate animal kingdom also enjoys a good stretch of the jaw here and there. Many pets, such as dogs and cats, can even start yawning after watching their owners do it. Again, the reasons behind these reflexive actions are just as mysterious in animals as they are in us.

The Contagious Yawn

Your faithful canine companion isn't the only one who can catch a yawn by watching you do it. About 50% of people experience the urge to yawn from watching someone else do it, and others are sensitive enough to get the reflex from reading or thinking about it. It's more likely that you'll find a yawn contagious if it's performed by someone close to you, and humans seem to find animal yawns less contagious as well. It's considered an indicator of well-developed empathy to find yourself yawning when you see others do it.

Excessive Yawning

Yawning is such a normal part of life that for most people it's not even noticeable. Unfortunately, excessive yawning is possible and can interrupt your day and make it hard to handle social situations. Aside from being annoying, yawning too much can also indicate a serious problem with your Vargus nerve, a heart defect, or a brain issue. It's important to pay attention to your yawns and take notice if you're doing it every few minutes regularly throughout the day. A strong and repetitive urge to keep yawning is a warning sign from your body, so take it seriously and see a doctor if you're concerned.

It's better to find out you're just having a normal reflex reaction than to wait until it's too late to get treatment for a more serious condition. Of course, since yawning is tied to boredom and sleepiness, a good mattress is one of the best ways to control the occasional reflex. Getting a good night's sleep leaves you ready to face the day without feeling drained.

Edited: 09/14/2019