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What is Yawning?

Updated on June 11, 2015

Dog Yawning

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Is Yawning Contagious?

Did you ever wonder why you yawn? Then, if you are with someone else and yawn, the chances are they will yawn also. Is yawning infectious? Really, the answer is yes; it often is very infectious. When we see someone yawn or even hear them yawn over the phone, we often yawn also. Do you ever yawn when on an airplane to relieve ear discomfort? This is a benefit of yawning. Contagious yawning may be a way to keep us alert.

Essentially, we are all the same when it comes to instinctive behaviors and yawning is one of those behaviors. Scientists really do not know very much about yawning, except that it is an involuntary action. Robert Provine, a developmental neuroscientist at the University of Maryland has proven that 11 week old fetuses yawn, so it is a normal human reflex and age is not a cause of yawning.

Respiratory System

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wickimedia commons

What is Yawning?

From a physical standpoint, yawning causes us to open our mouths wide and take in a deep breath. Other parts of the body are also involved in the yawn. The jaw drops open to allow more air to enter into the lungs, the abdominal muscles flex pushing the diaphragm down. The diaphragm is a large dome-shaped skeletal muscle extending across the bottom of the rib cage, which actually separates the thoracic cavity with the abdominal cavity and is moving with each breath.Your heart rate may rise by 30 percent during yawning. It is also a way to stretch the muscles. Did you know that yawning can also be a signof sexual arousal?

Boredom, drowsiness and fatigue are known to bring on a yawn. We often cover our mouths when yawning in public to not offend another individual. Yawning is natural, and the facts are, scientists do not know for sure why we yawn.

Owl Yawning

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Saberttooth Tiger and Caveman

iclipart.com
iclipart.com

Excessive Yawning

An individual that suddenly has excessive yawning, even when tired, can indicate a serious problem. It may be caused by what is known as a vasovagal reaction. This reaction happens when the vagus nerve (this nerve runs from the brain to the heart and stomach) interacts with some of the blood vessels. This reaction can indicate an impending heart attack, a sleeping disorder to bleeding around the large aorta artery. It is appropriate to consult a physician if you have been yawning much more frequently for no apparent reason.

Why do We Yawn?

The most common theories include:

  1. There is a physiological theory that states a yawn is induced to remove a build-up of carbon dioxide in our bodies by breathing in more oxygen. This theory might explain why we yawn in groups in a closed in class room for instance. This poses the question, "Why don’t we yawn during exercise?" We certainly need more oxygen during exercise. Actually, this theory has also been tested by Robert Provine. Giving people more oxygen and reducing carbon dioxide did not prevent yawning at all in his studies.
  2. Then, there is the evolution theory. Some people believe that our ancestors in the early ages yawned to intimidate others by showing their teeth. That seems a bit bizarre, but a theory none-the-less.
  3. Yawning may also be a territorial reflex. Yawning often makes the body look bigger as arms are outstretched and the mouth is open. When humans witness an animal yawning the first thing they notice is the animal’s teeth and any threat.
  4. The boredom theory seems to be a more relevant one. While we do tend to yawn more when we are tired or bored, this theory does not explain why Olympians yawn right before competing in their athletic event. Also, why do dogs yawn right before they attack? I do not think they are bored.
  5. Another more recent theory states people yawn more when their brains are warmer. Then, it would seem they are yawning to cool off their brains. This theory was also tested by having subjects breathe through their noses. They also pressed hot and cold compresses against their foreheads to try to cool down their brains. Cool brains think more clearly, which is reason this theory is being tested. Dr.Gallup of the State University of New York in Albany tested this theory. The subjects of this experiment were all in one room while others looking through a one way mirror and counted the number of yawns. The results of this study found that yawning was almost eliminated for those breathing through their noses with cool compresses on their foreheads. Dr.Gallup surmised yawning keeps us more alert.

Seal Yawning

Source

All God’s Creatures Yawn

All vertebrates, including fish, lizards and snakes yawn, however, only human beings, chimps and dogs experience contagious yawns.

Another study explored why yawning might be contagious and they linked it to empathy or a form of social bonding. Kids do not experience contagious yawns until approximately four years of age. Children with autism seldom yawn, particularly in the more severe cases. Scientists think the study of yawning might help their understanding of developmental disorders

Sleep Music to Relax and Rewind - "The Path" or to Yawn

Yawning Survey

Do you find yourself yawning when others yawn?

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Short Summary

Now that I have yawned for the past hour while writing this hub, I hope that each of you stayed awake and enjoyed this information about yawning. We know it is natural to yawn and perhaps it is good to not get too overheated.

© 2012 Pamela Oglesby

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  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 3 years ago from United States

    I am glad you enjoyed this rather unusual topic. Thanks for your comments,

  • DDE profile image

    Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

    Interesting and so helpful. I am glad to have read this hub and know more about yawning. You enlightened me on a useful topic. Voted up!

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    Rebecca, I do too! Thanks for your comments.

  • rebeccamealey profile image

    Rebecca Mealey 4 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

    OMG what an interesting article. I yawn at the slightest suggestion of a yawn!

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    Audry, I didn't know that. Thanks so much for your comments.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    Delores, I agree that yawning is contagious. I could yawn just talking about it. Thanks so much for your comments.

  • vocalcoach profile image

    Audrey Hunt 4 years ago from Nashville Tn.

    I teach my vocal students to yawn frequently to relax throat muscles as well as to open the back of the throat while singing. When a singer sounds nasal it's because the back of the throat is closed off, bringing all the vibrations to the nose and sinus areas. Yawning teaches us how to "open" the back of the throat - a crucial point for singers.

    Great hub which I will pin and share. Voted across and thanks so much! ~ Audrey

  • Dolores Monet profile image

    Dolores Monet 4 years ago from East Coast, United States

    It's funny that there are so many theories on why we yawn and I thought it very interesting that children with Autism do not yawn. This was a great read, but, oddly (or maybe not) I did yawn at the end! That's how contagious it is!

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    Lady E, I'm glad you enjoyed the hub and I appreciate your comments.

  • Lady_E profile image

    Elena 4 years ago from London, UK

    Very interesting and enlightening to read. I knew yawning was contagious but didn't know why. I'm glad I read this.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    bredandagnes, This is good to know. Thanks for your comments.

  • bredandagnes profile image

    bredandagnes 4 years ago from Ireland

    There are some unexpected benefits to yawning-Voice therapists teach it to help relax the muscles in the neck and larynx and help with voice problems.Great hub and fun too.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    pstraubie, I found yawning to be an interesting topic to write about and yes, yawn. LOL Anyway, I appreciate your comments. Thank you for sending angels and back to you also.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    Marcy, He does have that affect. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    Susan, I really learned a lot when I was doing the research for this hub and I did a lot of yawning also. Thanks so much for your comments and the share.

  • pstraubie48 profile image

    Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

    Seeing the pup yawning at the opening of this article...made me feel as if I must yawn.

    I am now very tired after reading this..:) feeling I must y a w n.

    Seriously, thanks for the info....I learned things about yawning I did not know. That is why I read these articles...to learn something new. Love the photos too..

    Sending angels to you this seventh day of the new year :) ps

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    You made me yawn just by looking at Fido's picture! Interesting stuff here - thanks for enlightening us!

  • sholland10 profile image

    Susan Holland 4 years ago from Southwest Missouri

    Oh, Pamela, I don't know how you got through this one... LOL It is a great hub! Seems to prove a point in itself - yawning is contagious. As soon as I saw the dog, I was a goner. I yawned with every example and explanation you gave. Lots of oxygen intake going on here. :-)

    I did not know that long ago people may have yawned to show teeth for aggression. Also, I realized how right you are about a dog yawning before attacking, even in play my two yawn before wrestling. I never noticed before.

    Great job and very interesting! Votes and shared! :-)

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    Chris, I'm glad you enjoyed the hub and I appreciate the comments.

  • carolina muscle profile image

    carolina muscle 4 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

    This was fascinating.. and I didn't know that about sexual arousal... I just assumed she was trying to tell me something else entirely. :-D

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

    Kelly, I'm glad you enjoyed the hub. Thanks for your comments.

  • kellymom1970 profile image

    kellymom1970 5 years ago

    Pamela99, what great hub!! I always learn so much for your hard work. Great job! :)

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

    I thought the animals were so cute. I'm glad you enjoyed the article and I appreciate your comments.

  • Movie Master profile image

    Movie Master 5 years ago from United Kingdom

    Hi Pamela, I love the picture of the owl yawning!

    A fascinating article, really enjoyed reading - didn't yawn once!

    Thank you and voted up

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

    Ruchira, I'm glad you found the hub interesting. I appreciate your comments.

  • Ruchira profile image

    Ruchira 5 years ago from United States

    Very interesting Pam.

    I must have yawned 5 times while reading this hub...it is so contagious :)

    I was aware that Livings yawn when they need more oxygen...other pointers were interesting.

    Thanks pam. Voted up as useful and interesting

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

    Peggy, That is a lot of yard work. I'd be yawning too. Thanks for your comments.

    K9strokes, It does seem to be very contagious. I sure appreciate the comments and the share. Hugs to you too.

    Rufus, I think that is probably true about dogs. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub and I appreciate your comments.

  • Rufus rambles profile image

    Rufus rambles 5 years ago from Australia

    Great hub! I yawned about 5 times while reading it! And I certainly wasn't bored. I have heard that yawning stimulates the vegas nerve which gives us more energy or alertness. Also, in dogs, yawning can show anxiety and is an attempt by the animal to calm itself. Very interesting hub!

  • K9keystrokes profile image

    India Arnold 5 years ago from Northern, California

    Pam, I must have yawned 5 times during your hub! Certainly NOT out of boredom, but rather reflex...it was very strange. The simple suggestion of a yawn has such an effect! Great information here. Fascinating that only chimps, dogs, and humans experience contagious yawning. Up and sharing this one! Hope this finds you doing well, ma'am.

    HubHugs~

  • Peggy W profile image

    Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

    Reading this hub made me yawn. Not the article, which was very interesting...it was probably the 4 1/2 hours of yard work that I did today. I'm tired! Up votes and sharing.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

    Mzl, Good question and I think they have a lot to learn. Thanks so much for your comments.

  • unknown spy profile image

    IAmForbidden 5 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

    Pam, excellent work. we know we yawn but why do we??? great topic.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

    Maria, I think most of us are impressionable when it comes to yawning. Thank you for your comments. Hugs.

  • marcoujor profile image

    Maria Jordan 5 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

    Pam,

    I have yawned from start to finish, yet I was fascinated with your organization and presentation of this content. I think I am very impressionable...?

    Wonderful work! Voted UP and all across! Hugs, Maria

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

    Dianna, I'm glad you found the hub interesting and I appreciate your comments.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

    tillsontitan, I was curious about those two theories also. Thanks for your comments and I appreciate your stopping by to read by hub.

  • teaches12345 profile image

    Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

    What a good post on a common habit. I find myself yawning when others yawn. It's just one of those things that you do -- now I can see why. Thanks the share on this very well done hub of information.

  • tillsontitan profile image

    Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

    Funny I just read another hub on yawning...are we trying to tell ourselves something? I think most people are curious about yawning because we don't know what really causes it.

    I love the thought of showing your teeth or making yourself bigger by yawning...I'll have to see if anyone is intimidated the next time I yawn ;) Thank you for all this information.

    Voter this up, useful and very interesting.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

    Coge, Mythbuster has some interesting topics but I must have missed that one. I think the warm brain theory is the most logical but I think they still have some research to do also. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub. Thanks so much for your comments.

  • Cogerson profile image

    Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

    A very interesting hub on yawning....I learned a ton of things while reading this hub. It does make you wonder why some animals and some athletes yawn right before an activity...it certainly is not that they are bored (as you wrote)....but it does make you think.....I think the warm brain theory seems like a good one.

    I remember watching a Mythbuster episode where they tried to get people to yawn.....by having people yawning on purpose....if memory serves me correctly...they could not prove or disapprove the myth.

    Voted up and awesome.....job well done.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

    drbj, So glad to hear you kept alert while reading. :-) Thanks for the comments.

  • WannaB Writer profile image

    Barbara Radisavljevic 5 years ago from Templeton, CA

    That's interesting. I'll have to try yawning when I need to be more alert. I'm still trying to figure out why a fetus yawns. I thought a fetus gets oxygen from its mother and is encased in water.

  • drbj profile image

    drbj and sherry 5 years ago from south Florida

    This was so fascinating, Pamela, that I did not yawn from boredom or ennui or the need for more oxygen even one single solitary time. Promise!

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

    Kashmir, Glad to know you didn't yawn. :-) I appreciate your comments and glad you found the hub interesting.

  • kashmir56 profile image

    Thomas Silvia 5 years ago from Massachusetts

    Hi Pamela great hub and very interesting information on yawning, some i did not know before. I did not yawn once reading this hub !

    Vote up and more !!!

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

    rajan Jolly, I am glad you found this article interesting. Thank you for your comments.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

    MHatter, I'm glad you found the hub interesting and thanks for your comments.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

    Faith, I thought the animals were adorable also. I appreciate your comments.

  • rajan jolly profile image

    Rajan Singh Jolly 5 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

    Pamela, I find myself yawning when I'm sleepy. Interesting topic to choose to write about. And you did an excellent job of it.

    Voting up and interesting. Sharing this.

  • Mhatter99 profile image

    Martin Kloess 5 years ago from San Francisco

    So my wife was right? Just joking, Thank you for this interesting report.

  • Faith Reaper profile image

    Faith Reaper 5 years ago from southern USA

    Excellent hub, Pamela. You have written a very insightful piece on yawning. I yawn #1 and when others yawn, I do so too. I just love thos images of the animals yawning, so cute. God bless. In His Love, Faith Reaper

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

    writer, I am so glad you enjoyed the hub and I appreciate your comments.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

    Linda, The power of suggestion really is amazing. It was fun to do the research of this hub and I am glad you enjoyed it. Thank you so much for your comments.

  • writer20 profile image

    Joyce Haragsim 5 years ago from Southern Nevada

    Great helpful hub. I enjoyed reading and seeing your funny photos.

    Voted up helpful and interesting, Joyce.

  • lrc7815 profile image

    Linda Crist 5 years ago from Central Virginia

    lol...the power of suggestion is amazing. I yawned through the whole hub even though I found it thoroughly fascinating. This was very creative and informative. Good job! Voted up.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

    eHealer, I am glad you found the hub informative. I love that dog picture also. Thanks for your comments.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

    Terrye, I think those are good signs to be know for all of us. I appreciate your comments and have a nice evening..

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

    b. Malin, It is good to know its not always boredom. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub and I appreciate your comments.

  • eHealer profile image

    Deborah 5 years ago from Las Vegas

    Pamela, great hub as usual, love the dog yawning. This is very informational for many people who don't understand (including healthcare pros) the reasons for yawning. Your theories described are amazing, and I absolutely learned something from your writing. Thanks and voted up!

  • TToombs08 profile image

    Terrye Toombs 5 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

    I think I fall into the category of only yawning when I dead tired. Great information, especially on the excessive yawning and signs that it might be something more serious. Great hub, Pamela! Voted up and sharing.

  • b. Malin profile image

    b. Malin 5 years ago

    Wonderful Hub Pamela. It's not always over Boredom, as you have pointed out. Very Interesting as well as Entertaining Hub, thanks for sharing and the teachable moment.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

    Trinity, I'm glad to know its not my hub, but I am also tired and yawning. It's been a busy day. Thanks so much for your comments.

  • Trinity M profile image

    Trinity M 5 years ago

    Interesting hub Pamela :) Funny how we usually know so little about something we do all the time; right now I am definitely tired and yawning (I promise it’s not your hub!). Voted up and interesting.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

    Lord, I'm glad you enjoyed the article. I thought it was a fun topic. Thanks so much for your comments.

    Billy, I didn't know most of it either until I did the research this morning. I appreciate your comments.

    Alecia, I'm glad the hub was informative for you and thank you so much for your comments.

  • Alecia Murphy profile image

    Alecia Murphy 5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

    I don't yawn that much but I do notice when others do. When I'm tired I usually I try to drink some water and move around. But I agree yawning is contagious.

    I didn't know that lack of yawning in children is a sign of autism but seeing it as a social behavior puts it in perspective.

    I learned a lot in this hub and enjoyed reading it.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

    Very interesting information, Pamela! I somehow did not know most of this, but I found it fascinating. Good job and shared!

  • Lord De Cross profile image

    Joseph De Cross 5 years ago

    Interesting! And is true, I yanw with someone on the other line or through Skype. The theory of the evolution seems to be more aceptable. We all yawn in public with a domino effect, like collective hyenas, but we do it individually like you said. Well researched and was a fun read Pam. Have a nice one!