Wednesday - Jul 17, 2019

How Yawning Can Prevent Your Brain From Overheating?


man yawning

When you feel tired, bored and sleepy you tend to yawn.  It is a normal mechanism of your body to cool your brain or prevent it from overheating.  You also yawn after waking up and when you are under stress. So, do you know what stimulates yawning?

What are the Theories of Yawning?

Yawning is a contagious and involuntary action that puzzled scientist. In fact, as early as 11 weeks, fetuses have shown to yawn.  People believed that when you are tired or bored your breathing tends to become shallow. 

This could mean that your body takes lesser amount of oxygen. Yawning then helps to oxygenate your body’s blood.  A report from University of Connecticut in 2010 have shown that younger children ages 4 and below and autistic children are not influenced by contagious yawning.  This suggests that yawning is an evolutionary tool that allows people to demonstrate empathy within their social group.

A lot of studies had been conducted to explain why you yawn and the reasons behind this mechanism.  It is a common belief that yawning helps the body to increase its oxygen supply.  However, past researches were unable to link successfully the association between the levels of blood oxygen and yawning.  

What are the Underlying Reasons for Yawning?

It is interesting to note that for the past few years, some studies show different findings in various location.  Findings have shown that Vienna people yawned less in winter and more in summer, while the opposite was true with people in Arizona. The study published in the journal of Physiology and Behavior pointed out that people yawn less frequently when temperature is higher around 98.6 degrees during summer in Arizona or freezing point during winter season in Vienna.

Investigators also learned that contagious yawning is most likely to occur when the temperature is approximately 68 degrees Fahrenheit. What do these studies have in common?  Researchers pointed out that thermoregulation particularly brain cooling might be the missing link.  The recently published research authored by Psychologist Andrew Gallup and his team of SUNY College at Oneonta, USA reveals that yawning is the body’s normal mechanism to cool the overheating brain.

Their study was entitled, “A Thermal Window for Yawning in Humans: Yawning as a Brain Cooling Mechanism” published in the Journal of Physiology and Behavior. According to this study, cortical arousal, stress and sleep cycles are all linked with fluctuations in the brain’s temperature.  Yawning functions to help keep the brain balanced to attain an optimal homeostasis.

The researcher’s theory suggests that yawning can be manipulated easily by variations in ambient temperature. They pointed out that an exchange with cool temperature could actually facilitate the body’s mechanism to lower the brain’s temperature.  The investigators hypothesized that yawning may occur within the optimal range of temperature, for example in thermal window.

To test their hypothesis Kim Dusch and John Massen of the University of Vienna calculated the frequency of contagious yawning among outdoor pedestrians in Vienna, Austria, both during the summer and winter months.  They then compared the results to a similar study which was conducted earlier in a scorched climate in Arizona, USA.  The pedestrians were asked to look at several pictures of people yawning, and then they were asked to report their yawning behavior.

The result showed that people in Vienna yawned less in winter and more in summer while people in Arizona, yawned less in summer while more in winter. The findings showed that the season or the daylight hours has nothing to do with yawning.  The contagious yawning happened when there is an optimal range or zone of temperature which is around 20 degrees Celsius.

The findings showed that the contagious yawning lessened when the temperature were a bit high around 37 degrees Celsius during the summer season of Arizona and lower during winter season in Vienna. The authors explained that yawning is a body’s mechanism to cool the heating brain.  When temperature is hotter than the body or the opposite which is freezing, yawning will not occur.

According to the researchers, this research will add to the existing body of knowledge about the underlying reasons for yawning in both contagious and spontaneous forms.    Since most researches have already emphasized the possible influence of emotional and interpersonal cognitive variable on yawning.  Researchers believed that yawning is the body’s mechanism to regulate the brain’s temperature.

Why is it Important to Cool your Brain?

Cooling the brain helps improve the mental efficiency, performance and arousal of the person.   The authors suggest that contagious yawning functions to enhance a group’s alertness. If you see someone in your group yawning, it is an adaptive behavior for you to yawn, as well.  Authors believed that it is a subconscious mechanism.

With the new theory of yawning, it could be possible that the mystery behind why people yawn is already solved. Unless otherwise a new theory will evolved and disproved the existing theories. Before, people used to associate yawning with being sleepy or boredom, but the new studies have suggested that yawning is actually good for your overall health because it helps in cooling your overheating brain.