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Why do we yawn?

Updated on July 9, 2014

The many reasons why we yawn.

Thinking or reading about yawning could induce one to open one's mouth and take a long, deep breath. Occasionally, this is accompanied by the stretching of the arms followed by a groan. This is most satisfying, unlike a yawn that is deliberately stifled. Seeing someone yawn would make one yawn. The most common reasons for yawning is tiredness boredom or lack of sleep. All mammals and animals with backbones yawn, as well as, fish, birds, snakes and crocodiles. Although animals yawn for different reasons than humans. There are many theories that abound about the reasons behind yawning, but some are inconclusive or unsubstantiated and many scientists are still in disagreement.

An average yawn lasts about 6 seconds.

When one person in a group yawns, 55% of the people in the group will yawn within 5 minutes.

Yawning due to lack of oxygen

One theory is that yawning is caused by the lack of oxygen and a buildup of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream especially during periods of inactivity. A yawn is then triggered by the brain in order to supply oxygen to the lungs. But then fetuses as young as 11 weeks are known to yawn and their lungs are yet to be ventilated. This shows that the lack-of-oxygen theory is flawed.

Yawning caused by imitation or empathy?

Why is yawning contagious? There are specialized cells in the brain called mirror neurons which make us empathize, meaning feel other people's feelings, including yawning. Watching a tear-jerker movie will move us to tears. Catching a glimpse of a colleague yawning in a meeting is enough to have most humans stifling a gape. Studies have shown that chimpanzees yawn in response to seeing other chimps yawn. This proves that chimps are able to empathize with other's state of mind.

Photo credit: Flickr by Smeagle -----------Photo credit: Flickr by Cory

Computer animations make monkeys yawn.

Tiger quietly announces a phone call.

OOFIT phone case design with Tiger Yawning for Apple iPhone 4 4s
OOFIT phone case design with Tiger Yawning for Apple iPhone 4 4s
Let this big yawning cat keep your iphone safe and easy to find. The life-like photo will delight and bring a smile to one's face.

Have you yawned yet?

Congratulations, you are a very empathic person.


Yawning makes one more alert.

There is evidence that yawning jumpstarts the body for a main event. There have been so much yawning during the Olympics, and it was not because the athletes were bored or tired. Yawning routes extra surge of blood to the brain and prepares the body for major activity. These may be the same reason why paratroopers yawn before the first jump, students yawn before the final exams, and violinists yawn before the start of a concert.

Yawning is contagious!

This video will illustrate how watching someone yawn can make you yawn. Are you able to stifle your yawn before the video ends?

It's been a long day


These are street scenes of people caught in the act of yawning. Waiting for a bus could be boring and elicit a yawn. A whole day of serious window shopping with a little tyke tagging along could make a tired mother yawn. A nice big yawn is very satisfying after a long bike ride.

It is deemed not polite to yawn in front of your conversational partner as it would give the impression that you are disinterested or bored. You do not want to be caught yawning on your first date, meeting your mother-in-law, or at a job interview. Covering your mouth may be the proper thing to do, but surely the wrong message has been sent.

How many times were you tempted to yawn while reading this lens?


Do you pandiculate?

Stretch and yawn

Pandiculation is the act of stretching and yawning simultaneously.

Although this word is harder to remember than to do, it is no secret that we all pandiculate at one time or another; right after awakening from sleep, after a long, hard day of work, or when we are extremely weary and tired and are ready for bed. Stretching your arms out, breathing in air and exhaling is more satisfying than just to give out a mere yawn.

Photo credit: Joseph Ducreux self-portrait ca. 1783 - Wikipedia

Pandiculation is promoted by the practitioners of the Hanna Somatic Education. Read about the benefits of pandiculation.

How many times have you yawned so far?

Your heart rate can rise as much as 30 percent during a yawn.

Blind people yawn more after hearing an audiotape of people yawning.

Yawning cools the brain.

Researchers have found that yawning is a way to cool the brain. If you press a cold towel against your head and breathe through your nose, you are less likely to yawn.

This little puppy needs a nap.

"A yawn may not be polite, but at least it is an honest opinion."

Watch these tiny animals yawn.

Do you think these little creatures are bored or just sleepy?

Yawning as a form of communication.


In some animals, yawning is a form of communication and a show of dominance. Opening their mouths wide and baring their teeth is one way some wild animals behave when threatened. Some believe that yawning began with our ancestors to intimidate, dominate, and to signal change in activities

Photo credit: Flickr by Dan Wade

Reptiles yawn as a cool down method.


Crocodiles and alligators are cold-blooded animals and depend on their surroundings to maintain their body temperature. So crocodiles bask in the sun to warm up and get in the water to cool off. When it gets too hot, crocodiles open their mouths to let heat escape.

What does it mean to be cold-blooded or warm-blooded?

A happy hamster yawns


A hamster yawns right after a sleep or when it is feeling happy, relaxed and comfortable. So if your pet hamster yawns a lot, you know that you have a contented resident.

Ostriches yawn to synchronize activities of the group. - Based on pecking order


When ostriches are ready to settle down for the night, the highest-ranking birds yawn first, followed by the rest of the flock. This is the way the leader communicates to the flock to all settle down, awaken at sunrise, and feed together the next day.


Why do fishes yawn?

Not for the same reasons we do.

When a fish opens and closes its mouth, it is pumping water through the gills. The gills serve as a sieve to trap small particles. As water flows through the gills, oxygen passes through the blood-filled gill fillaments while carbon dioxide passes into the water. When a fish "yawns", it is forcing water to backwash across the gills and remove the particles blocking the gill filaments.

The male Siamese fighting fish is known to yawn before attacking its rival.

You would yawn too if you thumped all day.


Birds yawn to clear their airways.


Sometimes, a bird will open its mouth for a few seconds to dislodge some fluff stuck in its throat. It may do some stretching movements and shake its head to clear its throat. This makes it appear that the bird is yawning.


A bored feline

You might see cats yawning a lot because they are sleepy most of the time. Felines sleep at least 14 hours a day and prowl around at night.

After sunning herself most of the afternoon, my calico cat, Mali gives a mighty big yawn after a day of catnapping.

What is excessive yawning?

Could be a physiological problem

If you yawn one or up to four times a minute, then that is considered excessive yawning. This could be more than just tiredness, boredom or lack of sleep. It could be a sign of some health issues. Find out more here.

20 medical conditions that cause excessive yawning.

Fun video of a cat yawning


Webster's Quotations, Facts and Phrases

No More Yawning!

Why Is Yawning Contagious?:

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about the Human Body

And Some Things You'd Rather Not

The Mystery of Yawning in Physiology and Disease

(Frontiers of Neurology and Neuroscience)


This lens was awarded a Purple Star.

Nothing to yawn about.

Thank you to the Squidoo lensmasters who nominated and bestowed this award on this lens. It is greatly appreciated.

This lens is intended to make you yawn to prove one of the many theories that yawning can be induced just by reading about it. Or perhaps, you stumbled upon this lens while you were half asleep and the picture of mouths agape made you yawn. So, be honest now, did you yawn or were tempted to yawn while reading this lens?

To my guests - Did this lens make you yawn? - I promise I will not be offended.

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    • NibsyNell profile image


      7 years ago

      Wow, I didn't realize fish yawned! Great lens!

    • profile image


      8 years ago


    • Board-Game-Brooke profile image

      C A Chancellor 

      8 years ago from US/TN

      So funny -- I yawned at least 4 times while reading this lens!

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 

      8 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      I can see why this lens won a purple star. Great information.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Yawning is really contagious.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I did yawn once! =) interesting lens

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      i think i yawned around 15 times as i read through this!!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      It is funny to know that yawning is contagious, no matter how much you control. And surely just reading about yawning made me yawn - a great well written lens, perhaps a cure for insomnia.

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 

      8 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Curses! I yawned four times during my visit (pandiculation included) - whoops - make that five times as I yawned in the middle of typing this

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I did yawn, but I yawn rather frequent and see a medical issue I have, listed as a medical cause for excessive yawning. Interesting, as I'd never seen this symptom mentioned before. Cute idea and photos!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      When I was reading your lens - interesting as it is - the pictures of people yawning, made me yawn too :)

    • profile image

      mattseefood lm 

      9 years ago

      Very informational! Thanks for thiis :)

    • ChrisDay LM profile image

      ChrisDay LM 

      9 years ago

      You're right - I yawned but definitely not bored.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Why can't I yawn? Oh, I just woke up from sleep

    • snazzify lm profile image

      Katie Harp 

      9 years ago

      I actually got through the whole lens without yawning haha... great lens :) it was pretty tempting

    • jlshernandez profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      This is one situation where I am so ecstatic that most of the readers of this lens yawned.

      You are all so empathic.

    • puzzlerpaige profile image


      9 years ago

      Yes, I did :-). Love this lens.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Lol so true, I yawned for 3-4 times

    • pixelposy profile image


      9 years ago

      Oh my goodness, I think a yawned a half dozen times while reading this lens. Nearly every picture made me yawn. Too funny.

    • maplesyrup59 profile image


      9 years ago

      What an interesting lens! And yes I did yawn while reading not because I was bored but because it is late and close to me bedtime. Well deserved purple star!

    • CruiseReady profile image


      9 years ago from East Central Florida

      No, I didn't yawn yet . . . but, I think I feel one coming on nw.

      This was really interesting... especially thhe part about the ostriches.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      It was difficult, but I swear that I made it through all of the videos and the whole lens without breaking out into a yawn! Yes!1

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      This was a very interesting lens and i rolled it with my circadian rhythm lens

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      A very interesting lens. I really enjoyed reading your post.

    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 

      9 years ago from Vermont

      This lens certainly didn't make me yawn ... and it's a welcome addition to Purple Star Pastiche winners plexo - stop by and vote it to the top of the list!

    • jackieb99 profile image


      9 years ago

      Fabulous information! Thank you.

    • VarietyWriter2 profile image


      9 years ago

      I too yawned while reading this. Looking at the baby yawning made me yawn. How funny :)

    • poptastic profile image

      Cynthia Arre 

      9 years ago from Quezon City

      Sorry to say that I did not yawn at all reading this lens as it was very interesting! What a fun and captivating read. I always thought yawning was due to lack of oxygen but you debunked that theory on the very 1st module. Really enjoying your lenses! ~Blessed~

    • profile image

      Dianne Loomos 

      9 years ago

      Yep, I yawned several times while reading this lens. Fun lens!

    • tandemonimom lm profile image

      tandemonimom lm 

      9 years ago

      What a yawn-worthy lens, LOL! Fascinating! I did not realize that it had been proven that yawns are contagious. GREAT photos, BTW.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      So bizarre. Just reading the title of your lens made me yawn! You have lots of interesting facts about yawning that I never knew before.

    • profile image

      Mrmakingusmile LM 

      9 years ago

      Nice lens. very good read. Thanks for making me smile.

    • Kiwisoutback profile image


      9 years ago from Massachusetts

      I was tired before reading this lens, but now I'm ready to take a nap (not because it's boring, because I'm susceptible to yawning too). Maybe instead I'll pandiculate and take a walk. Great lens, I learned a lot.

    • PromptWriter profile image

      Moe Wood 

      9 years ago from Eastern Ontario

      I am very susceptible to yawning. I yawned at least ten times while reading/viewing this lens. I stopped counting after that. And I yawned again just writing about yawning.

    • norma-holt profile image


      9 years ago

      No, I didn't yawn but the reflex to do so stirred a bit. Good fun lens with some nice facts. I am featuring this on Pets Health.

    • jlshernandez profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      @anonymous: Thank you for your yawns. I just proved my point that there is no escaping this involunatry reflex. Thank you for your honesty and for stopping by. You know where to go when you need to yawn- right here.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Wow, well let me tell you, this lens was NOT a yawn! So much interesting information and the animal yawn pics were a hoot! I must admit I started to yawn when I read it, but that HAS to be a reaction to seeing all the yawns here LOL (but seriously, I did) Loved your lens, thank you! - Kathy

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      A very interesting and unusual lens. I must admit it did not make me yawn at all.

    • SueM11 profile image

      Sue Mah 

      9 years ago from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

      Very interesting topic. I yawned as i was reading it partly due to the influence of so many yawning examples.

    • jlshernandez profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Thank you for blessing this lens. You are awesome.

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 

      9 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      Very interesting lens...and yes I yawned several times...Blessed.


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