37 surprising jaw-dropping facts about yawning you’ve probably never heard about
Too many yawns, especially if I am not tired, makes me wonder about the meanings of yawning. I wonder about why I yawn so much at sometimes. Or why is the action seems so contagious? Could yawns be a symptom or even a cause of any health problems? I am sure you have asked yourself some of these same questions if not all of them, and that is probably why you are here. Because of that, I will share 37 yawning facts with you now. I hope that they will be both informative and helpful for you.
Physiological Facts about Yawns
Our list of 37 surprising yawning facts will begin with some statements surrounding the foundational physiology involved with yawns.
#1. Scientific Knowledge about Yawns Is Very Limited
We must begin approaching a topic like this with a confession. There is a huge debate regarding the evidence available about human yawns.
Many have conducted research in pursuit of answers to questions like these. What causes yawns? Why yawns are important bodily functions? What do they mean to our health? What do they communicate in our social settings? That means that when you go to a search engine looking for answers to questions about yawns, you are likely to find inconclusive and contradictory responses that do not really answer your question.
That is the first fact about yawns that we must face. But despite those limitations, there are still plenty of things we are certain about. The aim of this list is to show you the things we are certain (or relatively certain) about.
#2. The “Cooling” Theory Has Its Origins in the 4th-3rd Century BC.
Interestingly, the thought that the involuntary production of yawns is a way in which the body (or at least part of the body) cools itself down can be traced all the way back to the ancient Greece. The father of this theory was the famous physician Hippocrates who lived approximately 460-370 BC. Hippocrates postulated that yawns are the body’s natural way of curing a fever.
While the current research still shows that this is not quite accurate, it also shows that the truth of the matter is probably much closer to Hippocrates’ idea than doctors have thought for many years. The most common medical thought prior to this more recent research was that yawns were a way of receiving oxygen when needed. But the most recent research in the field points against that and toward cooling down the brain whenever it gets overheated.
#3. Yawns Really Are Contagious
It is not merely a long-lasting legend that we have heard enough to believe it and practice it. We do not yawn just because of the power of suggestion. It really is contagious. The most recent scientific research points to the activity of the yawn starting in the brain. Neurons in the brain trigger a type of mimicking response when we see somebody else yawn. This chemical reaction happening in the brain causes us to follow the other person in their behavior. However no evidence points to this being in any way a voluntary response.
#4. We Do Not Necessarily Yawn because We Are Tired
Tiredness is part of the reason we yawn. Scientists think that the overarching cause of yawns is overheating that can happen in the brain.
Extreme tiredness can cause the brain to overheat. But that’s not all: changes in weather and air pressure, location, drastic changes in heart rate, and use of certain over the counter or prescription medications and other drugs can all contribute to the human brain overheating. Regardless of the reason for the overheating, current medical researchers point to the yawn as the natural physical response to overheating that starts to cool the brain down.
#5. Yawns Are Reflexes
By definition, this means that yawns are involuntary. However, like most (if not all) involuntary actions, we can also force them if we so choose. That is an important statement to be made at the beginning, as we will have to make a distinction between involuntary and voluntary yawns with many of the upcoming statements.
That differentiation will be specifically made as fact #11.
#6. A Baby Begins to Yawn before Being Born
Throughout pregnancy, ultrasound pictures show motion that appears to be yawns. Doctors believe that these seem to coincide with the development of the fetus’s nervous system. Therefore, a fetus’ yawns are more common in the earlier stages of pregnancy. The closer to birth, the further the nervous system develops, and the further the nervous system develops, the less the fetus yawns.
#7. Yawns Change Our Heart Rates
This chart shows how the moments leading up to a yawn, the time during the yawn itself —usually approximately six seconds—effect the heart rate. As your breathing changes during the process of a yawn so does the heart rate. Your heart rate reaches its highest point during the yawn itself.
#8. Multiple Muscles Are Involved in the Action of a Yawn
Thoracic muscles that are active in the chest, aka the diaphragm, the larynx, and the mouth all work together to make a yawn happen. This action sends a liquefying agenda called surfactant to cover the alveoli in our lungs.
#9. The average Yawn Lasts Around Six Seconds
While six seconds is a rough estimate, it is fairly accurate. Any involuntary yawn from 6 to 8 seconds is considered completely normal and healthy. When yawns last more than 10 seconds, then it may be a sign of abnormality or disorder
#10. Yawns Are Not Limited to the Human Species
Almost all animals yawn though presumably for a wide variety of reasons. However, not a whole lot is currently known about why animals yawn. The only thing known for certain is that some species including primates (and very likely also some members of the canine and feline species) yawn in order to communicate dominance over their surrounding creatures.
Some animals, including some breeds of dogs, seem to yawn because they do not sweat. Their bodies, much like human brains, are able to cool off through their yawns. Other animals, like sharks, appear to be subject to contagious yawns just like humans, but there are some species that do not seem as susceptible to this.
Several types of insects are assumed not to yawn at all because their breathing is significantly different from that of other animals, but this is limited to reptiles, and it is not true for all kinds of reptiles.
#11. Yawns Increases Your Rate of Respiration
A yawn improves the levels of oxygen in the brain. In order for that to happen, respiration much increase. Even though it feels like we breathe slower when we yawn, the opposite is actually true. The phenomena allows the speed at which oxygen flows either to or out of the brain, whichever is necessary at the time of the yawn.
The Relationship between Yawns and Health
The next section of our facts about yawns will move from physiology to personal health. These will help us determine how yawns are helpful for areas of our health but how they can also be indicators, if not even symptoms, of diseases in others.
#12. Yawns Can Be Good for Your Brain
There are some outdated beliefs that yawns are related to breathing and oxygen levels and that they are always related to tiredness. Also it has naturally crept into the minds of many that yawns must be a way in which the body relaxes. However, the most recent data shows that relaxation seems to be just a side-effect. The predominant effect of voluntary yawns on the brain is one of activating. That means yawns are not slowing the brain down, as it has often been thought.
Instead of being merely a naturally induced stress reliever, yawns actually activate certain brain activities. That makes us more aware of our surroundings, more conscious of our role in whatever situation we find ourselves, and better equipped to process and think through things quickly and to respond appropriately
#13. Forced Yawns May Increase Productivity in All Areas of Life
Because of the benefits for the brain just noted, it has become increasingly common to see athletes make yawns part of their training disciplines. The action helps mindfulness and focus on achieving the goal at hand. In social situations, this research points to the likelihood that yawns activate brain activities that make us better able to communicate, relate to, and empathize with others.
It is thought to enhance meditation, prayer, and other spiritual activity improving our focus and intentionality. In other words, in whatever situation or place you find yourself, a few simple voluntary yawns may help you improve your abilities and your performance in any activity according to these studies. In addition to positively impacting brain functioning within a given situation, other evidence also shows that it can enhance memory functioning as well
#14. Understanding the Neuroscience Data Requires Differentiation between Voluntary and Involuntary Yawns
Research at Duke claimed to stand against the assertions that yawns can have the positive impact on the brain activity. However, the full report points to assumed facts about involuntary yawns, not interacting much with the data surrounding forced yawns. It suggests that the contagious effect of yawns does not spread empathy. Howerver that does not preclude the possibility of voluntary yawns helping an individual become more empathetic towards others.
This points to one of the most important considerations in weighing the data: weighing it against the variable of whether the yawn is voluntary or involuntary. More research regarding voluntary yawns can help further develop these ideas on empathy and consciousness. Meanwhile further research on involuntary yawns could serve very useful for insight into schizophrenia and autism, as is suggested from the study performed at Duke.
#15. All the Good News We Have Discovered about Yawns Must Not Be Taken Too Far
While all these things about the positive health effects of yawns seem to be true, there is a limit. In the last section especially, where we just looked at the mental benefits, that are largely related to occasional voluntary yawns.
If you continuously yawn for a long period of time without any control over it, this is not a good thing. Of course, this can be a sign of being too tired. People who suffer from insomnia, sleep apnea, chronic fatigue syndrome, and other disorders related to unhealthy sleep cycles are likely to find themselves unable to control the large quantity of yawns that they produce and the extremely short amount of time between those many yawns.
However, just like yawns in general, excessive yawns are not necessarily related to tiredness. The action can be a symptom of heart disease, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and strokes. Excessive yawns can also be related to obesity. The rest of this section on health and yawns will deal with how yawns seem to relate –sometimes positively and sometimes negatively—to specific physical and mental disorder.
#16. Yawns Can Decrease the Pressure Caused by Ear Barotrauma and Even Cure It
Ear barotrauma is the common disorder marked by a rapid increase of pressure in the eardrum. This is what happens when altitude is increased and why so many people experience pain and discomfort in their ears when flying. Anybody who flies often has discovered that forced yawns help to loosen that pressure. And if ear barotrauma is still causing problems after the plane has landed, that continual yawns will most likely help.
#17. A Disciplined Series of Yawns Can Improve MS Symptoms
Consistent reputations of long yawns associated with muscular sclerosis seem to mollify the symptoms of that disease according to the reports of an important MS survey. The length of the yawns appears key to those who have reported being helped by the action.
Those who report patterns of yawns that lasted for several minutes also reported the highest level of benefit from the yawns. Also, because insomnia is a common symptom of MS, these lengthy patterns of yawns are conducive to falling asleep, thus serving to help with many different problems related to MS.
#18. Yawns May Help to Lessen the Frequency and/or the Intensity of Epileptic Seizures
Similarly, epilepsy patients report that when they practice a discipline of forcing yawns along with yoga-style breathing and stretching, they are less prone to seizures.
These 87 conversations currently online at Treato.com, reveal the benefits of such forced yawns for people who suffer from epilepsy. Many of the participants in these conversations provide helpful tips and personal stories of how to take advantage of this natural preventative measure, assisting to lessen the frequency and intensity of epileptic seizures.
#19. Migraine Sufferers Can Catch a Migraine through Monitoring Their Yawns
Patterns of excessive yawns can be common just before a migraine headache is about to set in. As an early sign of a migraine’s likely imminence that occurs as early as it does, the rapid yawns are generally reported to be easily distinguishable from usual yawns. You know, usual yawns are those that are caused by either tiredness, air pressure, or high brain temperature.
Therefore, these types of yawns can be very useful. Why? Because they can alert you that it might be a good idea to take any medication you have that can prevent the full onset of a migraine, to practice meditative breathing, to take a nap, or to do whatever it is that best helps you when experiencing a migraine. Catching it in the early stages like this can help to alleviate a lot of the pain usually associated with migraine headaches.
#20. Excessive Yawns Can Increase the Intensity of Panic Attacks
On the other side of this yawn/disease spectrum, yawns can also be symptoms of disorders. Research on anxiety disorders indicates that anxious states can cause yawns that are not helpful. As breathing patterns change when anxiety increases, so the likelihood to yawn rises with it. This test can help determine if your yawns are a symptom of anxiety or not. Yawns can be part of the hyperventilation that occurs during a panic attack.
When we yawn, we take in much more oxygen than we do when we breathe normally; the same occurs with the hyperventilation related to anxiety attacks. Thus, the combination of anxiety and yawns means taking in far more oxygen at a given moment than is healthy, unfortunately making the anxiety even more acute.
The best way to remedy this, then, is to monitor your breathing. Take significantly slower and deeper breaths, paying as much attention to the exhaling as the inhaling since you are not void of oxygen even though it probably feels as if you are.
#21. Yawns May Be Able to Function like Antidepressants
Some of the research in the relationship between brain chemistry and depression seems to indicate that yawns may help to regulate serotonin levels. While further research must be done on this, if it turns out to be correct, then it will confirm that yawns help to free neurotransmitters, making them of the utmost use for brain receptors, thus acting like antidepressants and helping in the treatment of depression.
#22. Yawns Can Be Symptoms of Breathing Deficiencies Caused by Obesity
People who are more than 100 pounds overweight are susceptible to a far higher rate of yawns than people who are either at a healthy weight or who are underweight. The excess fat in the body inhibits the circulatory system in its consistent flow of oxygen throughout the body. Thus, the result is similar to that of the hyperventilation that occurs with panic attacks.
Too much oxygen is taken in without the ability to be distributed appropriately and evenly throughout the body. That excess oxygen prevents the person from healthy, natural, consistent, deep breathing. The unhealthy involuntary yawns, then, occur because of the lack of healthy breathing and oxygen flow
#23. There is a Disease Marked by Excessive Yawns
The scientific term for excessive, unhealthy yawns is the Vasovagal Reaction. Some sources identify Vasovagal Reaction as a series of reflexes that resemble yawns, saying they are different, but not specifying how. So, this is another area where the research is not conclusive, but for the sake of simplicity we will assume that Vasovagal Reaction is a series of yawns.
The bodily reaction is caused by the vagus nerve, and its effect on blood vessels is most likely what causes too many yawns that are not helpful. While the Vasovagal Reaction, in and of itself, is not serious, it can be a symptom of various serious diseases. Medical researchers believe that the Vasovagal Reaction is an indicator of the potential for heart attacks and aortic dissection.
#24. Yawns may be early signs of neurological disorders
When the motor cortex experiences any interruption in its communication with the brain (especially with the brain stem and the hypothalamus), yawns and an excess of cortisol production can occur. It is thought that these may be the earliest signs of many types of neurological diseases including different types of strokes
#25. People with Schizophrenia and Autism Yawn as Commonly as the Rest of the Population but Do Not Experience the Phenomenon Contagiously
While there does seem to be a connection between yawns and empathy as noted before, that association probably has nothing to do with the other fact that yawns are contagious. The spread of a yawn from one person to another appears to be something that happens void of any emotional connection between the people spreading the yawn.
People who are on the autism spectrum or who suffer from schizophrenia——those who are generally hindered from much ability to empathize effectively with others—are just as prone to yawns but not in the transmissive way that most of us are. This is a primary reason so many have thought for so long that contagious yawns are responses of empathy, even though the most current data contradicts this
The Relationship between Yawns and Communication
Our third set of facts about yawns will relate to body language and what a yawn tells about us, our thoughts, and our attitudes to others. What the other person receives and understands from this aspect of our body language may or may not be accurate. The likelihood for misinterpretation of body language is what makes this such an important topic. What does a yawn really communicate to others?
#26. A Yawn Can Communicate Boredom
A 1986 study by Robert R. Provine and Heidi Hamernik claimed to affirm the commonly held—but difficult to prove—idea that yawns are a reflection of boredom. Through subjecting college students to two different types of visual media (one full of various visual stimuli and one void of such), they observed something that’s not suprising at all. They came to the consclusion that those experiencing less visual stimuli yawned more often than those who had a supposedly less interesting visual experience
#27. The Boredom Study May Be Outdated and Require Revision
The Provine and Hamernik study raises questions about the subjects’ relationships to the visual media. In 1986, music videos such as those used in the study were practically the height of an exhilarating visual media experience. As the world of visual media was much different in 1986 than it is now, we may wonder how far removed the two experiences really were from each other.
Would the subjects really have found the one as boring as the experimenters have assumed they did? Regardless of any answers that might come to this question, their study is very important for giving affirmation, whether right or wrong, to those who believe that people who yawn are doing so because they are bored.
Furthermore, the more updated research will confirm boredom only as one of many possible reasons, and not even one of the more common reasons for yawns, as will be further explored in the next item.
#28. Surprise! A Yawn Does Not always Communicate Boredom
As has been addressed above, there are many possible causes for yawns, so we should always be leery of jumping to one cause that we see in another person without knowing more details about their present state of mind, health, etc.
Assuming that someone yawns, because they are bored, is often a quick, ignorant judgment. Why?
Because that could be dangerous as it gives us a potentially wrong view of the other person which can even lead toward negative self-talk.
It would be silly to claim that if a person yawns when I talk, then I must be boring him or her. So, although boredom may be a possible reason for yawns, it is important that we are wise to know other possible causes and not too quickly diagnose that reason in others.
#29. Other Nonverbal Cues Work Together to Indicate Whether or Not a Yawn Is the Result of Boredom
So, since a yawn itself is not enough to determine if someone is bored, how do we avoid sending the impression we are bored if we accidentally yawn in a social setting? The answer is simple. We just have to pay very close attention to our other nonverbal cues.
If we make sure we are not looking at a clock, staring at our phones, or doing anything else that could make us look distracted, then we begin to protect ourselves from sending the unfortunate nonverbal message that we are bored. If we are otherwise attentive, and perhaps even apologize for the yawn and provide an explanation for its reason (if we know it) then we avoid any risk of miscommunication.
If you explain, for example, that you did not sleep well last night, nobody will be able to misjudge your yawn as a cue of body language pointing to boredom. They will no longer be tempted to read more meaning into the yawn than is actually present
It is thought that when a person is caught off guard, startled, or in any type of sudden situation of intimidation or fear, that person is not able to yawn in that situation. However, yawns nevertheless can communicate fear as they are very likely to occur immediately after the initial shock has begun to wear off. So seeing somebody yawn while you are talking could just mean that you said something that somehow shocked them
#31. There Is Very Likely a Connection between Yawns and Sexual Intimacy
In males, androgens are the hormones that trigger both sexual arousal and yawns. Medications with sexual side effects also seem to trigger yawns for both men and women. Specific effects of yawns on sex have not been studied very thoroughly yet, but further research could produce very interesting insight into the connection between yawns and communication
#32. Yawns Could Be a Subconscious Sign of Physical Attraction
As with the last statement, the research on this topic is very limited and inconclusive. Differentiating a yawn of attraction from all the other possibilities is not something that is currently possible.
Therefore, it would be very dangerous to take the idea for granted or for any individual to assume that he or she can recognize such a yawn from another person as a type of romantic invitation. But once more research is accomplished, this too could shed much light on the relationship between yawns and human relationships
Debunking Common Myths about Yawns
Throughout our look at the various facts about yawns, we have already encountered some misunderstandings that are widely believed. The final section of our investigation will go into greater detail into those wrong ideas.
However, it must be stressed once again that the research into yawns is still very limited. Even though there are facts known and myths debunked, the information available changes fast. Therefore, it is important that we pay attention to the most recent research and weigh it critically with what has gone before it. That way we can be as aware as possible of what sources are worth taking seriously.
#33. There Is No Single Cause of Yawns
Everything we have looked at so far has made this statement obvious. Yet many myths to the contrary exist. While very little has been proven about the cause or causes of yawns, one thing is certain: there are many possibilities, and none of them are exclusive.
So anytime you hear a single explanation for a yawn that attempts to pigeon-hole the activity (Ex.: “He or she yawned because he or she is tired,” “he or she yawned because he or she is bored,” etc.), you should be cautious to avoid taking such an explanation too seriously. Instead, we should consider all the other possibilities that we looked at earlier in the survey concerning the meanings of yawning.
#34. Yawns Are Not Caused by a Lack of Oxygen
Again, we may be limited in how much information we have available regarding the cause of yawns, leaving us to appropriately assume that there must be many possible reasons for the action as we have done above.
One thing that is sure, however, is that the long-standing belief that the predominant reason for yawns is a lack of oxygen is contradicted by the best research available. We already discussed the relationship between yawns and anxiety attacks. There, it was suggested that during a yawn, there is too much oxygen, creating the need for slower breathing during hyperventilation so as to avoid excess oxygen.
#35. Not Everyone Can Catch Your Yawn
Indeed yawns are contagious as we looked at before. And it is also certain that everybody yawns. Those two facts, however, do not imply, however, that everyone catches yawns as the common myth would like for us to believe.
Children, however much they may yawn, are not prone to the transmission of another person’s yawn until they reach the age of 4 or 5. Also as mentioned before, people with autism and schizophrenia seem less likely to transmit or receive contagious yawns
#36. Yawns Probably Do Not Communicate Empathy as Was Thought in the Past
This is not to say that there is no link between yawns and empathy. In the earlier fact, “Yawns can be good for your brain,” we saw how intentional yawns can help us become more mindful of other people and in that sense activate empathy.
But that does not mean that another person catches the yawn because they are empathetic to us. The origins of contagious yawns are still very mysterious. But they seem to be more connected to factors of age and the time of the day than to our relationships with the people around us.
#37. Myths about Yawns Can Prevent Us from Receiving the Great Potential Benefits that Yawns May Provide
The myths that yawns are always produced out of boredom or tiredness have brought about the unfortunate consequence of the societal belief that it is rude to yawn. We have shown that yawns can have many causes that are in no way offensive. But because we have been trained to believe that the action is rude, we often work hard to suppress yawns. That way we are preventing ourselves from receiving the potential benefits we have discussed at length already
I sincerely hope that you enjoyed this list of 37 yawning facts. Feel free to contact us with any comments, questions, or insights you have on the topic. We would love to hear what you have to say about this article.
As I have looked for answers to why yawns occur and what they might mean, some of the conclusions are tentative, but there are still several things we know for sure about yawns. Thank you for joining me in this analysis of the data as we discovered what we could about the physiology, psychology, sociology, and spirituality of yawns.