Did seeing this photo of someone yawning make you want to yawn, too? Yawning is completely normal in most cases, and people yawn for a lot of reasons, internal medicine physician Neha Pathak, MD, who's a medical editor for WebMD, explained to POPSUGAR. How can you tell if the amount you yawn is normal?
What Causes Yawning?
One obvious cause of constantly yawning is lack of sleep. But even if you think you've gotten enough hours, the quality of your sleep matters, explained Teofilo Lee-Chiong, MD, chief medical liaison of sleep and respiratory care at Philips. Yawning may occur if you're experiencing daytime fatigue either from inadequate sleep or an untreated sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule, obtaining a sufficient duration of sleep each night (seven to nine hours is recommended), and addressing any causes of sleep disturbance, like sleep apnea, are important, Dr. Lee-Chiong said.
Dr. Pathak agreed and added that it's important to remember that "good" sleep is a matter of quality as much as quantity. So just because you sleep for seven to eight hours doesn't mean the quality was good. "For example, drinking a lot of alcohol before sleep can decrease sleep quality, making you tired the next day and more likely to yawn," she said.
If feeling tired isn't the issue, boredom can also cause yawning. Dr. Pathak explained that we may yawn more during periods when we are doing mundane tasks, so it's been proposed that one reason for yawning is to increase arousal (meaning to wake us up). Aside from fatigue or boredom, some think yawning is due to a lack of oxygen, but this myth has been debunked.
Some other theories suggest that yawning plays a social role in groups, Dr. Pathak said. That's the reason for the contagious yawn (yawning when you see others yawn). It shows you are in tune with others in your group. "Some studies have shown that people who are more likely to have a contagious yawn have higher levels of empathy," she said.
The anatomy of a yawn is most likely found in the more primitive parts of our brain, in the brainstem, which is the main center for other automatic behaviors like breathing, coughing, and swallowing. This is why most of us have a hard time suppressing yawns once we start, Dr. Pathak explained.
There are some conditions associated with abnormal yawning or yawning so much that it interferes with your day-to-day activities. For example, multiple sclerosis can be associated with yawning, more than four times a minute in some studies, Dr. Pathak said. People with Parkinson's disease and Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS) can also have an increased amount of yawning. These conditions are thought to increase yawning because of damage to certain parts of the brainstem.
How Can You Prevent Yawning So Much?
Yawning is completely normal. Most of us yawn more in the morning when we wake up and in the evening before we go to sleep, Dr. Pathak said. Since lack of sleep can cause yawning, Dr. Pathak suggested making sure you have a good night's rest both in quantity and quality. Also, thinking, reading, doing activities you find boring, or seeing people yawn can be a big trigger for yawning — I have yawned more times than I usually do just writing about yawning! So avoiding these triggers can prevent yawning a lot.
If you find yawning is interfering with your daily activities, happening multiple times a minute, and a big change from your previous level of function, you should talk to your doctor about it.