Why do we yawn?

19 May 2016
POSTED BY Y Magazine

It’s as natural as drinking water but why do we do it? 

Yawning is a common part of everyday life yet this simple phenomenon has some rather curious features.

To help you learn more about why we yawn, Dr Sujay Kansagra, a sleep health consultant based in the US, offers answers to some of the most commonly asked questions.

Why do I yawn?

There is no easy answer. Yawning may increase the body’s oxygen levels and help get rid of carbon dioxide. More recent theories suggest that yawning helps to cool the brain in situations when it gets too hot. No theory has yet been proven correct.

Do I yawn only when I’m sleepy?

You may think yawning only happens when you are bored or tired but it is not uncommon to see Olympic athletes yawning just before their events. A study of soldiers about to parachute out of an airplane for the first time showed an increase in yawning just before they jumped. Therefore, it’s not just boredom or sleepiness that brings it on. Yawning may trigger the brain to make a change in its state, either from bored to alert or sleepy to awake.

Why do I yawn when I see someone else yawning?

This is also a mystery. Even though children start yawning as early as during their first trimester as foetuses, they don’t experience the contagious yawn until they are about five years old. This is about the same time as they develop better social understanding and empathy. Interestingly, autistic children yawn just as often as other children but are much less likely to have a contagious yawn.

Why am I yawning right now?

Either this article is making you sleepy or you have hit on another common trigger for yawns. It’s not only seeing a yawn that can trigger one. Hearing, reading about or thinking about a yawn may also bring one on.

I frequently see dogs yawning. Do all animals yawn?

All vertebrate animals yawn. However, only humans, chimpanzees and possibly monkeys will yawn when others yawn. Humans are more likely to imitate the yawns of others when they know them well; a habit that has also been shown by chimps. 

For more information about yawning, visit StopYawnTalking.info.

* Family Features

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