It’s something we’ve been doing since we were in the womb, something we do every day and a habit we share with most animals — even birds! We’re a planet of yawners and despite how common it is, scientists haven’t yet agreed on all of the reasons why we do it and there’s surprisingly little research behind the action.
One thing we do know, though, is that the body yawns because it needs to. If you’ve ever found yourself trying to hold in or hide a yawn, you’ll know how uncontrollable this bodily function is.
So, why do we yawn?
There are actually many theories but the most scientifically backed theory is that we yawn to regulate our brain temperatures. According to a 2014 study that looked at the yawning habits of 120 people, yawning enables us to inhale air that can cool down the brain if it gets too warm. In the study, it was found that people tended to yawn less in winter.
Additionally, according to the Medical University of South Carolina, while yawning is tied to tiredness and boredom, it’s not actually a sign of tiredness but actually a reflex that is driven by hormones that increase heart rate and alertness.
According to the university, the reason that we yawn when tired or bored is because our body is trying to keep us alert and awake, even if just for a short period of time.
Why do we yawn when we see somebody else do it?
Have you spent the entire time you’ve been reading this holding in yawns? If so, this is good news. It means you’re an empathetic person, how lovely.
That’s right, according to a 2015 study, people who yawn in response to seeing others yawn have higher empathy levels. Not only that but if you find yourself yawning more around certain people, it’s likely because contagious yawning is far more common between loved ones than strangers.
When should we worry about how much we’re yawning?
While yawning is usually harmless and just a standard bodily reflex, if you find yourself yawning more than usual and experiencing new symptoms, speak to your GP to rule out any underlying issues.
According to Healthline, excessive yawning could be due to:
- Drowsiness, tiredness or fatigue
- Sleep deprivation
- Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy
- Neurological disorders such as MS
- Liver failure