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Yawning: a still little-known mechanism

Yawn. This gesture is part of our daily life. We just got up, we yawn. We digest, we yawn. We see someone yawning in front of us, we yawn too.

But, haven’t you ever wondered where this desire comes from? What are the physiological reflexes that make us open our mouths wide all of a sudden?

Today we are interested in this banal gesture. Open your eyes wide!

A banal reflex

On average, you yawn 250,000 times in your life and it starts when you’re just a fetus! It appears that from the 11th week of pregnancy, we start yawning. However, over the years, this tendency diminishes. Moreover, this reflex is common to most vertebrates: chimpanzees, birds, dogs, cats, snakes?

We yawn about 250,000 times in our lives.

The yawn is manifested by a long and deep breath, which is accompanied by a one-second apnea. At this moment, our jaw muscles contract and stretch like an elastic band. Our hearing acuity is reduced. Then the yawning stops, we quickly exhale, which sometimes stimulates the tear glands, our eyes get wet.

Finally, we are relaxed and feel a sense of well-being that pervades us.

Causes still little known

It is common to say that yawning is synonymous with boredom or fatigue. It is true that it allows us to replenish our oxygen supply, at the moment of inspiration, to revive our brain functions. When our body slows down because of a bad night’s sleep or heavy digestion, it sends a signal to the brain, which triggers this reflex to wake up.

Sign of fatigue? or boredom?

Analyses of this phenomenon show a complex intervention of several neurotransmitters such as dopamine, oxytocin and acetylcholine. But is it really triggered by a cerebral slowdown? Nothing has been proven yet, these are just hypotheses based on certain observations.

Especially if the only explanation was fatigue, we would not be subject to the mechanics of imitation. You know, when a person starts yawning in front of you, you also feel this irresistible urge. However, it is not said that you are in the same “state” as your neighbor. In fact, yawning triggers activity in our frontal lobes, which are responsible for our empathy. As a result, we are driven to imitate.

Yawning is good for your health

While it is difficult to know the precise causes of yawning, it is certain that this mechanism is excellent for health. Dr. Eva Lothar explains that yawning openly relaxes our facial muscles. In addition, the induced breathing helps to oxygenate our brain, to re-inject dopamine and other neurotransmitters.

Yawning is good for your health

Result: after a yawn, you are much more relaxed and alert again. This reflex is therefore a natural way to relax in times of stress. Better still, it is recommended to trigger yawning when you are too tense, to regain your calm and experience a revival of vitality.

An ideal refreshment

When you’re hot, rather than drinking iced tea, opt for a proper yawn! Princeton researchers have shown that yawning cools the blood in your head. In fact, when we’re tired, our brain overheats, causing our brain temperature to rise, which slows down its activity even more. So if yawning gives you a boost of vitality, it’s because the air entering your nose and mouth cools your brain “circuits”.

Yawning = sexual desire

We owe this astonishing explanation to Doctor  from The Australasian Sleep Association. The latter explains that in certain animal species, such as the macaque and the hippopotamus, it is common to observe the dominant male yawning before mating. In human beings, this reflex can also occur, especially in women. Obviously, studies have established a link between stretching and female sexual desire… However, not all scientists are categorical about this possibility.

Yawning remains a mysterious mechanism of the human body. Several scientists have studied the question, without really providing a concrete answer. It seems, in all cases, that this reflex generates many benefits on the body. Anti-stress and anti-fatigue weapon par excellence, it helps you to hold on in particularly difficult moments: tiredness, digestion, boring meetings… Of course, when you yawn in public, don’t forget to put your hand in front of your mouth. Relaxing yourself is one thing, showing your tonsils to everyone is another!

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