Your eyes close from fatigue, you count the minutes until the meeting you’re in is over, your mouth opens and a big yawn escapes.
Everyone yawns, but why does it happen so much?
You haven’t had enough sleep
This is the more obvious reason, says Dr. Jaime Boero, a Marshfield Clinic sleep medicine and neurology specialist.
“If it’s 8 in the morning and you’re yawning after being up for only a few hours, that’s a sign of being tired,” Boero said.
He says consistent yawning can be a sign a person is extremely fatigued.
“Most likely, if you are exhausted, getting more sleep will help with not yawning as much,” Dr. Boero said.
Surprisingly, more people yawn when they’re bored than when they’re tired, Boero said.
“People can be fully awake at a meeting and you can yawn just out of absolute boredom,” he said.
But many people do not yawn when they’re moving, doing things like walking or physical exercise.
“If you’re biking or doing an activity outside, you don’t see people having to stop their bike ride and yawn,” he said. “They don’t do it in the middle of exercise.”
Another time people do not yawn as much is in high-tension situations, like a natural disaster. An earthquake is an example.
There’s strength in numbers and the same goes for yawning. People tend to yawn more when they’re in a large group than when they’re alone.
“There’s contagious yawning, whether others in the group respond to it,” Boero said. “You’re not tired but you start yawning, especially in groups with people who are friends or family.”
He says it’s almost like the brain not only sends its own signals but sends signals to everyone in the group.
“It’s interesting,” Boero said. “Yawning can be a way for people in a group to imply it’s time to go to bed or it can be that it’s time to end a meeting and wrap it up.”
Yawning is neurological but this doesn’t have the same effect on everyone.
“People with autism or schizophrenia do not yawn when they see other people yawning,” he said. “They aren’t processing facial expressions. They yawn on their own but not in groups like others do.”
How can I stop yawning so much?
Unfortunately, no matter how much you sleep or keep energized, yawning is a fact of life.
“Yawning is something you cannot control,” Boero said. “It’s a neurological reflex. There’s no way to stop it since once you start, you cannot stop. You get pressure in your ear drums and you have to release it.”
All kinds of species yawn. Monkeys and dogs yawn, for example. But for any animal that yawns, including humans, the question researchers are looking for is why.
“Many people don’t know why they’re yawning,” he said, “and I think it’s a mystery, in a way.”