The Science Of Yawning And Why It Matters
The next time you yawn, consider the fact that humans can begin to yawn in utero, and all vertebrates yawn. This involuntary reflex can be a sign of tiredness, so consider improving your sleep quality with a bedtime routine and a cool gel memory foam mattress. We can also understand the science behind yawning and discover tips that help us yawn less.
How do we Yawn?
Yawning is usually an involuntary reflex that’s controlled by the same brain neurotransmitters that affect our appetite, mood and emotions. We usually can’t decide to yawn or perform this action on command. We also are less likely to yawn when we know that someone’s watching us or waiting for us to yawn.
When we yawn, our mouth opens wide, our jaw stretches, we breathe in deeply, our lungs fill with air, and then we exhale through our opened mouth. The entire process can last from three to six seconds.
We may also experience a variety of physical reactions throughout our body when we yawn. The action opens our Eustachian tubes and creates a stretching sensation in our eardrums, which can relieve high altitude pressure. It’s also common for our eyes to become watery since we close them during this action. We could make audible noises or groans as we inhale and exhale, too. We may also feel pandiculation, or the urge to stretch our arms, legs, body, and muscles.
In addition to humans of all ages, vertebrates yawn, including chimpanzees, fish, reptiles, birds, wolves, dogs, and horses.
Human males and females yawn equally. However, more males than females yawn in the animal kingdom, possibly due to an evolutionary link between testosterone and threat gestures.
Why do we Yawn?
Most often, yawns are triggered by fatigue or boredom. We might also perform this action because we see other humans or our pets doing the same thing. Scientific theories show that this reflex serves legitimate purposes, too.
While we generally feel relaxed after we yawn, this reflex can boost alertness and speed up our reactions. The increase in blood flow to our brain may speed neurotransmitter activity. The accompanying stretching or pandiculation may also wake us up a bit and prepare our body and mind for action.
Change our state of awareness.
A yawn can occur as our bodies adjust to changes in the state of our awareness. For example, we may yawn before bed or after an exercise workout or a long meeting because our brains are switching from a high energy task to a low energy task.
Cool our brain.
The brain is an amazing organ that can overheat quickly. Normal activity, stress and anxiety may increase brain heat, though. A deep yawn can prompt our blood and spinal fluid to flow faster through our face, neck and body. As a result, our brain cools and remains protected.
Improve respiratory function.
Yawning could be a natural remedy that increases our lung capacity. We could breathe better and enhance our respiratory function as we deeply inhale and exhale regularly.
Communicate with others.
Before early humans used words to communicate, they utilized sounds and gestures. Yawns could have been one communication tool that signalled alertness, boredom, sleepiness, or aggression.
Indicate underlying medical conditions.
In rare cases, we could yawn excessively, which is defined as more than once a minute. This condition could be a sign of sleep disorders, brain or heart problems, a vasovagal reaction, medication imbalance, or other medical concern.
Is Yawning Contagious?
If we see someone else yawn in the open or behind their hand or hear someone talk about yawning, we’re likely to do it, too. We may even yawn as we read or talk about the topic. That’s because yawning is contagious.
Research shows that we involuntarily imitate this action for various reasons. A communication tool, we might have developed this reflex as a result of social conditioning and to fit in with our fellow humans. We might yawn as part of our survival instinct, too, since collective yawning ensures everyone’s alert if danger arises.
Empathy plays a role in our yawning also. We’re more likely to yawn contagiously when we’re with family and less likely when we’re with strangers because we wish to express compassion to our tired or bored loved ones. In addition to humans, dogs, chimpanzees, wolves, and other animals that demonstrate empathy and self-awareness yawn contagiously.
Interestingly, older adults are the least likely age group to catch yawning. Children under five or those with autism spectrum disorders and individuals with schizophrenia are not as susceptible to contagious yawning.
How can we Stop Yawning?
When we yawn because we’re tired, we can go to bed. Good sleep hygiene, a cooling mattress and a quiet, dark bedroom will help us achieve better rest.
Bored yawning can be relieved through activity. We can exercise, clean or dance to increase our alertness.