Yawning – we all do it. You might have yawned just now thinking about it. Are you tired? Does your body lack oxygen? While there are multiple theories about why people open their mouth and breathe deeply, we can all agree that the action is contagious. To learn more about these concepts, check out these ten factoids about yawning.
According to several studies, people yawn because it supports a brain-cooling hypothesis. A postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University named Andrew C. Gallup, Ph.D. explained that data collected not only on humans but also rats and parakeets all lead to this conclusion.
Think about it: as your body physically yawns, you experience a powerful stretching of the jaw. This motion increases blood flow throughout your neck and into your face and head. Next, you take a deep breath. This intake forces spinal fluid and blood from your brain to flow in a downward spiral. Finally, the air that you breathed in cools these fluids as part of the brain-cooling process.
During the studies, Andrew C. Gallup, Ph.D., explained the team collected yawning data using not only humans but also rats and parakeets. The postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University noted that all of the data supports the same brain-cooling concept for both humans and animals alike.
Andrew C. Gallup, Ph.D. predicted that when the air is colder outside, we should yawn more because the brain prefers cooler air opposed to warmer. His team traveled to Tucson, Arizona on two different occasions to test this theory. Once they went in the winter when it was 71.6 degrees Fahrenheit and the other in the summer when it was 98.6 degree Fahrenheit. In all of the studies, humans, rats, and parakeets yawned more when it was colder outside or if they were outside longer in cooler weather opposed to a hotter climate.
Not everyone is convinced of Andrew C. Gallup, Ph.D.'s predictions. Adrian G. Guggisberg, MD, is a physician at the University of Geneva. He agrees with Gallup in saying room temperature changes can trigger yawning but is not entirely convinced of the brain-cooling theory. Adrian G. Guggisberg, MD, claims the theory is much more social because the body has other ways of regulating body temperature like sweating. He even suggests that we should not yawn less during warm weather because that is when our brains need to be cooled down that much more.
Andrew C. Gallup, Ph.D., believes in a physiological cause for yawning and a physical benefit. However, other theorists like Adrian G. Guggisberg, MD, think it has to do with communication and social effects. Although he admits the physiological effects of yawning are present, they are too small to credit for why yawning persisted throughout evolution. Rather, the contagious effect of yawning has to do with social competence and empathy.
Across many cultures, Adrian G. Guggisberg, MD, explains that yawning is naturally understood as a sign of boredom or sleepiness. When you see a person yawn, you assume they are somewhat tired or at least slightly unpleased about their current situation. However, this unspoken message is ambiguous and most likely not the only reason why the body has still yawned throughout evolution. One thing to keep in mind is that when the body is tired or bored, the brain is less stimulated, which results in a shift of temperature.
One theory, which has been mostly debunked at this point, suggests that people yawn to help bring more oxygen into the body. While some people believe tiredness causes yawning, others think it is a way of waking the body up in the morning. As you stretch your arms and legs, the yawning motion also flexes the tissues of the body as blood to the brain increasing alertness. Do you yawn more when you have a migraine? To go with the theory of Andrew C. Gallup, Ph.D., this is because your blood clots in your brain during a migraine and yawning can help cool your brain down from clotting.
One factoid of yawning that both theorists can agree on is the notion that yawning is indeed contagious. This is why Andrew C. Gallup, Ph.D., thinks that although yawning has a social effect, a physiological trigger that we are unable to control must drive the action. When you see another person yawn, you are sure to follow; even thinking about it or seeing someone on television yawn might cause you to do it, too. Are you really able to control such a response? However, a study performed by Baylor University suggested that yawning is contagious not because of an unconscious trigger, but depending on the level of empathy a person has.
Although the reason for yawning is still a bit of a mystery, it seems as though the action is here to stay. Stimulating your brain can help you shake feelings of boredom and tiredness. If you are yawning excessively, get up and move around. Walking outside into a different temperature might help. If that is not an option, maybe you have access to a cool drink or snack. Deep breathing exercises through your nose can also contribute to suppressing yawning tendencies. If you feel like you are yawning more than usual, try to track when it occurs and any other symptoms you experience such as loss of sleep, mind fog, or pain. Talk to your doctor about your individual condition.
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