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Why Do People Yawn And Is It Contagious?

image of our writer Filip Maric

Written By Filip

Sleep Advisor

The sleep advisors presenter yawning

8 April 2024 4 min read

Yawning is an arousal reflex. People yawn when they are tired, sleepy, bored, or when they see or hear another yawn. But just thinking about it often causes yawning. Animals yawn too not just homo sapiens.

Yawning is a consequence of the contraction of one muscle in the middle ear whose name is tensor tympani. This is exactly the reason why we seem to hear a yawning noise inside our head. However, it is wrong to conclude that it is a matter of air movement or nasal breathing. Mechanical movement of the hearing aid occurs.

There is also contagious yawning, and its cause is not easy to find. Due to the large number of theories from different fields, the chameleon effect or unintentional imitation is also mentioned. There are other opinions. For example, contagious yawning is a kind of empathy that we feel towards others, which leads to imitation of movement.

What is yawning and why do we yawn?

It is an involuntary, reflex action that has physiological significance. People do it without thinking, and it happens when we lack oxygen in the body. This means that you will mostly yawn when you are tired or when you are bored. In such situations, breathing slows down, the body receives less oxygen than it is used to.

This is how the trigger or yawning occurs, which means that this is the need to take a deep breath. This is just one of many theories that exist. For example, some basic medical research confirms that yawning is a brain cooling mechanism. This prevents overheating and keeps brain temperature stable, which would explain frequent yawning during the summer.

The main causes of yawning

There are many potential causes of yawning, as well as many theories. For example, some scientists claim that yawning is the result of mirror neurons. Neurons ignite when we see someone else yawning which leads to mimicking the action you just saw. Yawning lasts for a few seconds, and some of the most common causes are fatigue, boredom or another person yawning.

Being tired

Yawning is mainly caused by a lack of oxygen in the body. The body tries to replenish reserves, so it forces you to take a deep breath – to yawn and take more oxygen compared to regular breathing. This usually happens after too many hours at work, training, studying, sleep deprivation or some other exhausting activity. The body fights fatigue in this way and yawning helps both because of the oxygen and because of the increase of blood flow.

an image of a man being tired at the work

Being bored

You yawn not only when you are tired, but also when you start to get bored. For example, if you have been inactive for some time and if the brain is not stimulated, it starts to get bored. Due to that, its temperature increases and there is a greater need for yawning.

Seeing someone else yawning

Yawning is contagious, just like laughter. However, there is no single theory that explains the origin of contagious yawning. Mostly, this behavior is associated with the expression of empathy or unconscious imitation. The causes of yawning vary, and contagious yawning is not only present in humans but also in animals.

So, is yawning contagious?

The theory of yawn contagion emerged after a great deal of research. One of them involved an experiment in which people from all over the world were brought. It has been proven that this behavior has nothing to do with skin color, nationality or cultural customs. Unconscious imitation depends only on the type of connection between people. So contagious yawns definitely exist.

How to stop yawning using 3 effective ways?

It is necessary to touch the palate with the tip of the tongue several times and the excessive yawning will stop. In addition to this technique, there are many others that will help you stop yawning. For example, these are deep breathing techniques, walking and thinking about something other than yawning.

Deep breathing technique

Since we mostly yawn when there is not enough oxygen in our body, you can work on it.  Nasal breathing and forehead cooling diminish the incidence of contagious yawning. With deep breaths, you will get enough oxygen in a short time and you will probably stop yawning. However, if you are tired or bored, this will probably be a temporary solution.

Walk outside

Walking, climbing stairs and other activities are equally effective in combating yawning. In that case, wake up your body and brain, your heart rate speeds up and yawning automatically stops. This is the kind of awakening you would need to stop yawning.

an image of a woman waking with her dog in the woods

Thinking about something else

Yawning is contagious, but not just in a situation where you are looking at another person yawning. Image, text can be an equally strong association to yawning. So try to divert your thoughts and start thinking about other things. We are sure that you will forget about yawning very soon.

Conclusion

Yawning is definitely a reflex, but also more than that. There are many theories that offer different explanations for this phenomenon. There are also several ways to overcome the need to yawn or at least postpone it for a while. Sometimes there is no way to stop yawning other than to rest.

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