Yawning is a stereotypical reflex of inhaling deeply and exhaling audibly through the mouth. An extended inhalation usually precedes it. Yawning is contagious and often happens when we see someone else yawning. It typically occurs when we are bored, sleepy, or experiencing low oxygen levels in our blood.
For some, yawning might also be a way to relieve stress or tension. In addition, some research suggests that yawning helps to cool the brain. For example, in extremely high temperatures, yawning can help regulate brain temperature by sending extra blood to the head.
While the exact purpose of yawning is still not clear, it seems to serve several essential functions. Yawning helps us to take in more oxygen, and it also helps to keep people alert and focused. It is also thought to play a role in maintaining brain temperature and promoting healthy cognitive function.
Excessive yawning is yawning more than four times within five minutes or yawning that lasts longer than six seconds. If excessive yawning is accompanied by other symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath, it could signify a more serious underlying condition such as heart disease or epilepsy. Here are the most common causes of excessive yawning.
Drowsiness, Fatigue, and Tiredness
Frequent yawning is closely associated with drowsiness caused by sleep debt or the amount of sleep a person is deprived of for an extended period. It can also be a sign of the changing conditions within the body. According to studies, most people yawn when they are fatigued. It also happens when a person is awakening or during a shift in a person’s state of alertness.
Yawning stretches receptors in the lungs that are activated upon inhaling deeply, leading to increased vagus nerve activity. The vagus nerve then conveys this signal to the yawning center in the brain stem. This triggers other neurons that contract muscles associated with yawning, including those in the face, pharynx, and larynx. After these muscles have been activated, the air is inhaled deeply and exhaled. As a result, the body forces blood to rush to the face, thus helping the brain increase attention and alertness when it needs it.
Excessive yawning is a rare condition. However, people yawning excessively should seek expert consultation as this may be a possible cause of a severe medical condition.