If you think yawning is a mere indication from your tired body to take a nap or a relaxing break, you need to give it a thought again! You might have experienced that despite being vigilant, you still yawn. If facts are to be believed, yawns are contagious, more so if it’s a friend who is yawning. What could be the other possible causes? We decode.
Many of us have this misconception that yawning indicates low levels of oxygen or high levels of carbon dioxide levels. But in a few experiments, it was found that no matter how much oxygen or carbon dioxide is available, subjects tend to yawn in all the conditions. Some researches have also proved that people do not yawn less after being exposed to high oxygen levels and do not yawn more after being exposed to high levels of carbon dioxide.
Our lungs are full of tiny little air sacs and not all the sacs are always filled with air. When an air sac lacks air, it could collapse. Our yawning helps in getting the required air to that air sac, preventing it from damaging. When we yawn, we inhale more air than normal which in turn fills the air sacs. This could explain why yawning seems to occur when your breathing is shallow.
Yawning is also an indication of boredom. According to an experiment, some students (between the age of 17-19) were shown music videos and a few were shown colour bar test patterns. Those who were involved in colour bar test patterns yawned more and their yawn lasted longer than those who watched videos.
Ever wondered why we yawn as soon as we wake up? Even after relaxing and sleeping for a good number of hours, we still yawn. This is because yawning is associated with stretching of muscles and joints. This, in turn, prepares us for an increased level of alertness.
Of course, usual yawning is not a sign, but excessive yawning can be an indication of a disease. According to the National Institutes of Health, in some people, excessive yawning has been observed as a reaction caused by the vagus nerve and this could indicate a heart problem. In rare cases, it has been found that yawning in excess could also mean a problem in the brain functioning.
A word of caution: It’s not necessarily a sign of disease. If you think you have been yawning too frequently, consult a doctor.
Robert Provine, a pioneer of yawning research said, “Yawning is extraordinarily contagious. Seeing a person yawn triggers it. Reading about yawning causes yawn. Sitting in a room thinking about yawning triggers yawning.” Also, many studies say that yawning is more contagious among besties. Italian scientists at the Natural History Museum in Calvi claimed that yawning is also a form of emotional transmission, much like a kiss, smile or a hug. The closer you are to a person, the more likely you are to catch their yawn.
A rare fact but unborn babies also do yawn. Some researchers from Durham and Lancaster Universities discovered ultrasound images where a fetus was yawning. The way the fetus was yawning was different from the ultrasound’s images where foetuses had just opened their mouth. Though the exact reasons for yawning are unknown, it is thought to be associated with brain development of a fetus.
According to the journal Medical Hypotheses, Andrew Gallup of Princeton University and Gary Hack of the University of Maryland had a view that yawning helps in cooling brain’s temperature. They say, “The brain is exquisitely sensitive to temperature changes and therefore, must be protected from overheating. Brains, like computers, operate best when they are cool.” Gallup further added, “Excessive yawning appears to be symptomatic of conditions that increase brain and/or core temperatures, such as central nervous system damage and sleep deprivation.”