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Suppressing yawning poses potential risks: Doctors explain reasons

Suppressing yawning poses potential risks: Doctors explain reasons Illustrative photo (Photo: freepik.com)
Author: Daria Shekina

Yawning is a human phenomenon that is still the subject of many studies and questions. It occurs for various reasons - after waking up or before sleep. And often - if someone nearby yawns. You may also yawn during the day or when you feel nauseous.

Why do people yawn, and is it possible to suppress this process, is explained by Fit or Fun.

What yawning does to the body

On average, a yawn lasts for about five seconds. Physiological features of yawning were identified in one study, revealing a significant increase in heart rate at the peak of yawning, which continues to rise even more within 15 seconds after yawning. The same applies to skin conductance.

Most yawning episodes occurred during low-interaction activities such as seminars, learning, driving, or watching TV. Faster and interactive actions like cleaning, cooking, talking, etc., were less associated with yawning episodes. This strengthens the conclusion that yawning serves for arousal or stimulation, hence, yawning is followed by higher brain activation.

In another study, researchers found that most yawns in chimpanzees occurred during any activity. Only in very rare cases was yawning accompanied by sleepiness, happening either right before sleep or immediately after waking up.

Research on rats indicated that yawning has a cooling effect on certain brain areas. According to this, the temperature rises for three minutes before yawning, then significantly drops until it returns to the initial temperature - within three minutes afterward.

Should yawning be suppressed?

According to a 2018 study, yawning is associated with migraine attacks.

However, it is widely accepted that yawning, if not occurring more than once per minute, even if perceived as annoying, does not indicate a medical cause and, therefore, is not harmful to health.

As for suppressing this urge, in the worst case, if yawning is perceived by another person as disinterest or even disrespect, it might make sense to suppress it sometimes.

Just like suppressing a sneeze, the question here is whether frequent suppression of yawning can be harmful.

Gallup, a psychology professor who conducted numerous studies on yawning, also considers the purpose of yawning to cool the brain. "It changes the frequency and temperature of blood flow to the brain."

According to Gallup, morning and evening yawning can be explained by the fact that at these two moments, the body temperature is the highest.

Therefore, he sees yawning as a tool to smoothly transition from wakefulness to sleep and vice versa.

For a while, it was believed that yawning is intended to clear the lungs of low-oxygen air and thus increase oxygen saturation in the brain.

However, this assumption was discarded after a study, in which participants had to inhale air mixtures of different compositions, failed to find noticeable differences in behavior during yawning.

Another theory suggests that yawning is aimed at reducing pressure on the ears. In addition to consciously equalizing pressure by pinching the nose and blowing into it, yawning is an unconscious way to reduce ear pressure during takeoff and landing in an airplane.

Yawning is contagious. It is known. If someone starts yawning nearby, in your field of vision, it will be challenging not to join. Sometimes, it's enough for someone to yawn on TV for you to start talking about yawning or even read about yawning in this article.

There is clinical, neurobiological, and psychological evidence linking contagious yawning to interpersonal empathy. An Italian research group spent a year studying how various factors influence the likelihood of contagion caused by yawning.

For instance, they checked whether and to what extent origin, gender, or certain characteristics of yawning in yawning and non-yawning people, as well as agreements between them on accepting yawning, affect the likelihood of contagion.

As a result, only the factor of "social bonds" could predict the appearance of yawning contagion. Parental yawning was the most contagious.

Millen and Anderson found that children are largely immune to contagious yawning until school age. Contagious yawning could only be observed in children aged four to five.

Another research group was able to show that people suffering from schizophrenia also much less frequently get infected through other people's yawning.

How people suppress yawning

According to the cooling theory, the best way to successfully suppress yawning is to put a cooling pad on the head. According to a 2019 study, placing a cooling pillow with a temperature of about 4 degrees Celsius on the neck reduced yawning episodes in study participants three times compared to those who received a heating pad.

But, according to Gallup, deep inhalation and exhalation through the nose also lead to cooling of the frontal cortex. In another study, he was also able to prove that chewing gum reduces the need to yawn.

And Professor Robert R. Provine from the University of Maryland also advises deep breathing through the nose. According to the neurobiologist and psychologist, this only helps for a limited time. At some point, yawning still appears.

We also reported about signs indicating a tired psyche.