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The Good And The Bad Of Yawning

Excessive yawning may indicate a serious underlying medical condition

Yawning Image 1
Baby Yawning

Yawning is a reflex action. Your mouth opens wide, you inhale a lot of air, your lungs fill up, and then you exhale…

When you yawn, you:

  • stretch your eardrums;

  • close your eyes tight enough to make them water;

  • release a rush of oxygen into your blood that clears out toxins;

  • cool the brain by stretching the jaw and increasing circulation in the face and neck.


Why do you yawn?

Scientists aren’t sure why exactly we yawn, but it certainly marks a change of state. For example:

  • When we are tired at the end of a long day and want to take a break, marking the transition from a state of high mental activity to lower mental activity.

  • When nearing bedtime, going from a state of wakefulness to sleepiness, or vice versa.

  • When winding down from intense sports activity. 

A change in atmospheric state may also be a reason to yawn, for example, when moving from a high-pressure area to a lower one, a yawn releases the pressure that builds up in the eardrums.

We also yawn for social reasons, for example, to communicate boredom or sleepiness. Some researchers believe that yawing has more to do with evolution – before we could speak, we may have communicated with yawns. For example, early man may have yawned to show his friends that he was alert or angry.


A yawn helps you to breathe and think better

Whatever the reason for yawning, a yawn is said to pump oxygen into the blood, speed up the heartbeat, and speeding up the movement of oxygen and spinal fluid through the body, cooling the brain to around 20° Celcius, the optimal temperature for blood and brain.


When should you worry about yawning?

While all of the above is good and natural, there are times when yawning can be cause for alarm. Yawning too frequently, even after a good night’s sleep or for no apparent reason? It may be a good idea to speak to your physician about it. Although sleepiness can be a side effect of certain medicines like cough syrups and Piriton, excessive yawning may also indicate serious underlying conditions such as epilepsy, liver failure, brain tumour, anemia, or heart attack. Your doctor will eliminate general causes such as sleep deprivation and medication, before probing further with tests such as an electroencephalogram (EEG) to determine electrical activity in the brain, or an MRI Scan to determine heart function or access other parts of the body such as the spinal cord. If a serious problem is detected, immediate treatment will be prescribed.  


Adapted from an article by Dr. Seevarathnam, Consultant ENT Surgeon, Healthy Life Clinic



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