Yawning is one of the most frustrating reflexes humans and most animals have. Once you start, you can’t stop. When you get the excessive yawns, you might start wondering: why am I yawning so much?
The notion of stretching our jaws, deeply inhaling air, and then rapidly exhaling that air is met with a sense of refreshment or relaxation.
However, why does it happen? Is it because we’re tired, or does excessive yawning tell us something else about the human body and our health?
If you’re tired (pun not intended) of yawning so much, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s our guide on why you might be yawning so much!
Why Do We Yawn?
Interestingly, there isn’t a clear answer to why we yawn. Scientists haven’t concluded why we yawn, so there are currently two arguments.
Some scientists believe that yawning is a physiological function that helps to cool the person down or encourage the brain to wake up. Others, however, argue that yawning is a psychosocial function that is a communication indicator of sleepiness and fatigue.
The argument that yawning is a reflex to cool the brain down hasn’t actually been proven. While it has been proven that opening your mouth and taking deep breaths can cool the brain and body down, the same cannot be said for yawning.
In most cases, people will associate yawning with tiredness and the need to sleep. Paradoxically, though, yawning is actually believed to be a reflex that wakes you up rather than being a sign of tiredness.
Hormones are briefly released after yawning that increase the heart rate, and therefore levels of alertness.
This is why we yawn so much when we wake up in the morning, it’s our body’s way of saying “okay, time to get up now!”.
However, there are more reasons why we yawn than to cool ourselves down or wake ourselves up.
For example, when you’re on a plane that’s setting off, you will automatically yawn to try and pop your ears to equalize the pressure. You can even force these yawns, known as voluntary yawning.
There’s even a psychological argument about yawning. Everyone knows that when you see someone yawn, or if you even read about yawning (how many times have you yawned reading this article), then you will involuntarily yawn.
But did you know that some psychologists think yawning around people shows your empathy? That’s right - it’s believed that the more you yawn around someone you’re close with, whether it’s a romantic partner or family member, it’s because you are emotionally close to that person.
Possibly the most logical theory about why we yawn is because we’re not actually breathing deeply enough. Again, it’s not been proven, but yawning brings in a lot of oxygen with the deep breath reflex, and then exhales carbon dioxide.
So, it’s assumed that yawning is your body’s way of saying it needs more oxygen (in theory).
Why Am I Yawning So Much?
So, we’ve looked at the many theories why yawning is such a common reflex, but it doesn’t really answer why you’re yawning so much.
Unfortunately, there isn’t really a definitive answer to why you are yawning so much! Excessive yawning can be a sign of so many theories, whether it’s because you’re actually tired or if your jaw is particularly tense and needs to be loosened.
In a lot of cases, if you find yourself yawning excessively around other people, it’s probably because someone started the never-ending cycle of yawning. When one person yawns, the cycle begins, until everyone in the room has caught the yawns.
The reason for this is largely unknown, but it’s likely linked to a psychological function that encourages us to yawn alongside everyone else.
This is why people will argue that yawning is a sign that you need more oxygen in your lungs, because when you see other people yawn, your brain automatically assumes the oxygen levels are low. Again, this hasn’t been proven!
Excessive Yawning And Health Problems
Excessive yawning is typically identified when you yawn more than once a minute. While it’s typically associated with tiredness, it could be linked to some health problems.
Of course, yawning is a small symptom of these health problems alongside a myriad of other symptoms.
Yawning can also be a side effect of taking certain medications, such as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) that have a drowsiness effect, or hay fever medication. Yawning is also common in people with insomnia, sleep apnea, and narcolepsy.
Less commonly, though, yawning can be a sign of the following:
- Bleeding around the heart
- Heart attack
- Brain tumor
- Liver failure
- Inability to regulate body temperature
- Multiple sclerosis
As it’s fairly uncommon for yawning to be the main symptom of these health conditions, it’s important to look out for other symptoms that are more commonly associated with these issues.
Diagnosing Excessive Yawning
So, how is excessive yawning diagnosed?
If you notice that you are yawning excessively (more than once a minute and occurring for more than two weeks), then it might be worth booking a doctor's appointment. Your doctor will assess your sleeping habits since the beginning of the frequent yawning, which might include the diagnosis of a sleeping disorder.
If the doctor decides sleep isn’t the issue, you will probably then undergo a series of other tests to find the root of the yawning problem. You might undergo an EEG (electroencephalogram) test, which measures the vibrations and electrical activity in the brain. This can help to diagnose brain disorders like epilepsy.
When the excessive yawning is matched with other concerning symptoms, you might have an MRI. The images from an MRI scan can diagnose spine and brain damage, such as multiple sclerosis and brain tumors, as well as identifying heart problems.
So, there you have it! Turns out, there isn’t actually an answer as to why we yawn so much. It’s not just as simple as a sign of tiredness, because it could actually be a sign of many other problems. It might also be a sign of nothing but a bodily reflex!