Why do we yawn?

Yawning is considered a sign of tiredness and lack of sleep. There are numerous theories about the cause and meaning of the natural breathing reflex, but for what reason do we really yawn and why is it so contagious? Find out here what's behind the yawning myth and how yawning is really related to our sleep.

Table of Contents

      1. The phenomenon of yawning
      2. What happens when we yawn
      3. Why do we yawn?
      4. Why is yawning contagious?
      5. What can I do against frequent yawning?
      6. Conclusion

      The phenomenon of yawning

      We call yawning the involuntary and naturally occurring strong reflex to open the mouth and take a deep breath. In humans, yawning lasts up to six seconds and, like most vertebrates, we humans yawn every day, even about 250,000 times in our lifetime. Yawning is more common in the mornings and evenings, and is therefore often associated with lack of sleep or little restful sleep. In fact, we yawn more often when we are tired, but also in states of intense concentration, hunger or stress.

      What happens when we yawn?

      Yawning is a natural reflex that we can only suppress or prevent to a limited extent - and probably for good reason. When we yawn, the muscles of the mouth and face become tense and the rest of the body muscles, especially the chest and neck muscles, also become tight. The diaphragm raises and lowers and our heart rate and blood flow briefly increase. The deep breathing and brief widening of the airways provide a one-time supply of more air to the lungs and in this way also make more oxygen available.

      Why do we yawn?

      Blog: Warum gähnen wir?

      What exactly triggers the "yawn reflex" and what this behavior is really for has not been scientifically proven to date. However, although this belief is widespread, frequent yawning does not seem to be a direct sign of poor or insufficient sleep. There are a few different theories regarding the triggers and positive effects of yawning.

      Theory: Yawning is a reaction to lack of oxygen and tiredness!

      For a long time, it has been assumed that yawning occurs in response to a lack of oxygen and serves to increase oxygen intake and decrease carbon dioxide levels in the blood. Because an acute lack of oxygen is often associated with severe fatigue, yawning was accordingly understood to be a natural response to sleepiness, which our body uses to increase oxygenation and keep itself awake. But is this true? Unfortunately, no! Studies now show that oxygenation has no effect on the frequency of yawning and is not an explicit trigger.

      Theory: yawning makes you awake and alert!

      Many researchers assume that yawning actually serves to keep you awake or increase alertness. Admittedly: We yawn especially often in boring situations and rather monotonous activities, and the stretching and stretching that accompanies breathing activates the circulatory system. However, a study from Switzerland shows that the strength of brain activity before and after yawning is almost the same.

      Theory: yawning cools the brain and thus increases concentration!

      Current research suggests that extensive yawning cools our brain and thus serves to thermoregulate our brain temperature. This is because the brain is also constantly working and generating heat in the process. After sleeping and when tired, the brain temperature is generally elevated - it is precisely in these situations that we yawn particularly frequently. The short-term increase in heart rate during yawning allows more cool blood to reach the brain regions and the brain temperature to be lowered again. As a result, the brain is protected from overheating, an optimal working temperature is maintained and concentration and mental performance are increased. These assumptions are supported by further studies and experiments and correspond to the current state of research.

      Why is yawning contagious?

      When one person yawns, everyone yawns. All of us know the contagious effect of yawning. Neuroscience attributes this to the activation of the so-called mirror neurons. These are special structures in our brain that are also related to empathy and empathy, and cause us to "mirror" and mimic the behavior of others.

      Did you know that for many people, just reading about or thinking about yawning is enough to make them yawn too?

      What can I do about frequent yawning?

      Based on the theory that yawning serves to thermoregulate our brains, it may help to breathe through your nose rather than your mouth - this is where the incoming air is already purified and "tempered".

      Yawning itself is a harmless and harmless reflex. However, suppressing it is rather unhealthy from a medical point of view and should therefore not become the rule. So don't take it to heart if your counterpart yawns more often during your conversation.


      • Yawning is the involuntary and natural reflex of opening your mouth wide and taking a deep breath.

      • When you yawn, your muscles tense, your heart rate and blood flow increase, and your lungs and brain are briefly better supplied.
      • The cause of yawning is not entirely known. Lack of oxygen or fatigue are no longer considered triggers, but possibly the thermoregulation of the brain.
      • Yawning is contagious but harmless and should not be suppressed.

      Best regards and see you soon!

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