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Imagine yourself attending a long, boring seminar after a long day at work. As you strain your ears to listen attentively to the lecturer, you eyes start to wander. As you glance across the crowd of people, you notice someone yawn. A few seconds later, you also see a few other people yawning. Within minutes, without awareness and no control, you feel your chest enlargening, your mouth opening wide and you take a deep breath in and yawn too!
Nobody knows exactly why we yawn or the process by which we come to yawn. By definition, yawning means ¡°opening the mouth wide with a deep inhalation, usually involuntarily from drowsiness, fatigue, or boredom¡±. Although it is known that individuals will yawn more frequently when they are tired or bored, it is a common misconception that experiencing poor sleep and boredom causes yawning. This is only a theory (known as the Boredom theory) and it comes with many flaws. For example, we yawn even when we are not tired or bored. Little information is provided in medical and physiology texts. The most accepted explanation in the medical field is that we yawn because oxygen levels in our lungs are low and carbon dioxide levels are high. This phenomenon is called the Physiological Theory. When we are tired, we breathe slowly and take shallow breaths. During this time, we are not using our entire lungs and our air supply is limited. The parts of the lungs that don't get used collapse, obstructing the flow of oxygen into the body and carbon dioxide out of the body. Yawning is a means by which we can fill up our lungs with oxygen and invigorate our brain. It is believed that the brain induces the body to either sigh or take a yawn thereby prompting this process. The problem with the Physiological Theory is that it doesn't explain why we don't yawn when we exercise and why we don't yawn more often when we are at higher altitudes where oxygen levels are lower.
Is Yawning Contagious?
It has been well-documented that yawning is triggered by seeing, hearing, reading or thinking about another person yawn. Even reading this article may be enough to induce a yawn. Researchers have been able to prove that watching someone yawn evokes unique neural activity in certain regions of the brain, particularly in the regions of self processing, mental state attribution and autobiographical memory. These regions play a role in empathy which may provide one possible explanation as to how yawning is contagious. We empathize with a yawner and so yawn ourselves.
With ongoing research, scientists are discovering that there is more to yawning than what most people think. A new study in neurology by Cattaneo et al shows that pathological yawning may be a symptom of brain stem injuries. This supports evidence that yawning may have a neurological function and is not just a reflex to increase oxygen in the body.
The Evolution Theory is based on the premise that yawning developed from early man and that it is a reflex to prepare our brain for action and change.
Regularly used as a symptom in assessments in neuropharmacology, yawning has also proved to be a valuable tool for assessing chemical activity and the pharmacological properties of new drugs.
All forms of animal life, from mammals to rodents and even fish, perform the act of yawning. This cross-species trait may support the belief that yawning is some form of communication. Yawning can occur at various times of the day. For example, animals yawn when they wake up, before they are about to eat, when they want attention and also when they are ready for sleep.
Yawning occurs in all age groups. Researchers have been able to prove that a fetus can yawn at 11 weeks.
Regardless of the reason why we yawn, whether it occurs due to sleep deprivation, lack of oxygen in the brain, neurological imbalances or as a way to change activities, yawning may be an indication that there is a disturbance in the body or in our overall health. If sleep is a problem and you find that you are yawning much more than normal, addressing insomnia may reduce the symptom of yawning and other side effects. Truestar products such as TrueZZZ may be beneficial for those sleepless nights. Herbal calming teas such as chamomile, lemon balm and valerian root may also help you get a good night's sleep. Alternatively, don't forget to take deep breaths to ensure proper oxygen intake and to reduce yawning.
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