At a mere 11 weeks in the womb, humans experience their inaugural yawn – the first of many to come. This phenomenon is not exclusive to humans; it’s shared by various creatures across the animal kingdom. Due to it being so common, the involuntary reflex remained shrouded in scientific apathy. That is until researchers from the International Journal of Applied Basic Medical Research decided to let curiosity get the better of them in the quest to answer the questions: what triggers yawning, and what purpose does it serve? 

What Causes Yawning?


We are all a victim of it. The sense of boredom sets in when there is a lack of stimuli, which activates a sleep-inducing system, causing a feeling of drowsiness. In response, the body initiates yawning to stimulate the nervous system and keep us alert. So next time you yawn during the third hour of an uninteresting meeting, know that it is your body’s friendly way of keeping you upright. 

Increased Temperature:

When the temperature of the brain increases, the body notes it as abnormal thermo-regulation. Yawning increases blood flow and facial muscle activity, which aligns with the brain-cooling mechanism.

Social Empathy:

The myth is busted. Yawning is after all contagious. And it is because of our innate empathy. Contagious yawning is less likely to manifest in young children who don’t have fully developed neural mechanisms, and in people who have disorders that affect social interaction. Neuro-imaging also shows brain areas related to empathy activate during a spell of transferable yawning.  The aforementioned has provided clinical and psychological researchers with enough evidence to confidently link yawning and social empathy. 

Ear Pressure:

To alleviate ear discomfort (remember the stuffy feeling when a flight is taking off?), your body initiates yawning. During a yawn, your ear muscles contract and relax, opening the Eustachian tubes and consequently relieving middle-ear pressure. Experimental evidence conveys yawning is a defense reflex triggered by trapped air in the ear. 

Can You Do Anything to Yawn Less?

At times it might feel like you are being bested by a cycle of yawns. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to minimize excessive gaping.

  • Practice Deep Nasal Breathing: Deep nasal breath increases your oxygen intake which reduces your urge of yawing. 
  • Stay Active: If you notice yourself yawning frequently, consider engaging in short bursts of physical activity, even for just 5 minutes. This can stimulate your brain and enhance oxygen circulation throughout your body, potentially decreasing the need to yawn.
  • Hydrate: Drinking enough water helps your body regulate its temperature levels, reducing the likelihood of yawning. 
  • Prioritize Sleep: And lastly, establish a healthy sleep schedule. Create a comfortable sleep environment and practice staying away from blue light an hour before bed. – these steps are key to getting quality rest.

Before learning the root cause of yawning, and its functions, the phenomenon might have seemed redundant. Instead, yawning is an intelligent way for your body to communicate its need for intentional breathing, cooler temperatures, and better-quality rest. Next time you yawn, consider what your body is telling you.

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