Yawning is a sign of tiredness and lack of sleep. There are many theories about the cause and importance of the natural breathing reflex, but why do we really yawn and why is it so contagious? Find out here what is behind the myth of yawning and how yawning is really connected to our sleep.
Table of Contents
- The yawning phenomenon
- What happens when you yawn
- Why are we yawning?
- Why is yawning contagious?
- What can I do about frequent yawning?
The yawning phenomenon
We call yawning the involuntary and naturally occurring strong reflex to open your mouth and take a deep breath. Human yawns last up to six seconds and, like most vertebrates, we humans yawn every day, around 250,000 times in our lives. Yawning occurs more often in the mornings and evenings and is therefore often associated with a lack of or little restful sleep. In fact, we yawn more often when we are tired, but also when we are highly concentrated, hungry or stressed.
What happens when you yawn?
Yawning is a natural reflex that we can only suppress or prevent to a limited extent - and with probably good reason. When we yawn, the muscles around the mouth and face become tight and the rest of the body muscles, especially the chest and neck muscles, become tight. The diaphragm rises and falls, and our heart rate and blood flow increase momentarily. Deep breathing and the short-term widening of the airways supply the lungs with more air once and in this way also make more oxygen available.
Why are we yawning?
What exactly triggers the "yawn reflex" and what purpose this behavior really serves has not yet been scientifically proven. Although this belief is widespread, frequent yawning does not appear to be a direct indicator of poor or insufficient sleep. There are a few different theories about the triggers and positive effects of yawning.
Theory: Yawning is the reaction to lack of oxygen and tiredness!
It has long been thought that yawning occurs in response to a lack of oxygen and serves to increase oxygenation and decrease carbon dioxide levels in the blood. Because acute oxygen deprivation is often associated with severe fatigue, yawning has been understood as a natural response to sleepiness, which our body uses to increase oxygenation and stay awake. But is that true? Unfortunately, no! Studies today show that the oxygen supply has no influence 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 oneself awake or to increase alertness. Admittedly, we yawn particularly often in boring situations and rather monotonous activities, and the stretching that goes with breathing activates the circulation. 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 studies suggest that extensive yawning cools our brain and thus serves to thermoregulate our brain temperature. Because the brain is also constantly working and generates heat. After sleeping and when we are tired, the brain temperature is generally elevated - it is precisely in these situations that we yawn particularly often.The short-term increase in heart rate during yawning allows more cool blood to reach the brain regions and the brain temperature is lowered again. The 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?
If one yawns, everyone yawns. We all know that yawning is contagious. Neuroscience attributes this to the activation of the so-called mirror neurons. These are special structures in our brain that are also related to sensitivity and empathy and make us “mirror” and imitate the behavior of others.
Did you know that for many people, just reading about or thinking about yawning is enough to yawn too?
What can I do about frequent yawning?
Based on the theory that yawning serves to thermoregulate our brain, it can help to breathe through the nose rather than the mouth - this is where the incoming air is already cleaned and "tempered".
Yawning itself is a harmless and harmless reflex. From a medical point of view, however, suppressing it is rather unhealthy and should therefore not become the norm. So don't take it to heart if your counterpart yawns more during your conversation.
Yawning is the involuntary and naturally occurring reflex to open your mouth wide and breathe deeply.
When you yawn, the muscles tense, heart rate and blood flow increase and the lungs and brain are briefly better supplied.
The cause of yawning is not entirely known. Oxygen starvation or tiredness are no longer considered as triggers, but possibly the thermoregulation of the brain.
Yawning is contagious but not dangerous and should not be suppressed.
Greetings and see you soon!