Yawning! Yes ‘yawning’. Have you ever wondered why we perpetually commit to that ritual act of yawning? And for some cause we find ourselves replicating the same action whenever there is a yawner close by. This has since built the myth and perception of this act as being contagious. So, a few might have yawned now or later from just reading this. Myths and legends have associated and shaped the involuntary action as being hungry or the need to have a rest or embrace pure boredom.
It is also believed to be a contagious involuntary act that an individual indulges in and for no reason, another feels the need to be imitative. Humans are not alone in yawning. Animals yawn too and it acts as a form of communication for them. While for some, it is a show of aggressiveness. There also exists spiritual understanding and perceptions of this act by certain people and region. Customarily, we have been taught to close our mouths while we yawn because it is perceived to be a rude act to leave our mouth gaping, which is simply the modern understanding. It was once believed that yawning was an incident to allow the devil to gain access to an individual. Accordingly, covering of the mouth is the attempt to protecting oneself from such invasion. Now this article will further dive into the mystery pool of all that yawing is and has for us.
Yawning is an involuntary action that involves the wide opening of the mouth with a long and deep inhalation through the mouth and nose followed by an exhale. The average time duration of a yawn lasts up to 5 to 6 seconds of releasing air. Some stretching is accompanied by this act, while others can be overly dramatic while doing this similarly adding exaggerated sounds. Some other fun facts to note are that the average adult yawns 20 times in a day. While an average human yawns 240, 000 times in a lifetime, lasting 5-6 seconds, which coincides with an increase in one’s heart rate. Interestingly too, we yawn more when it is cold.
As stated earlier, yawning is a contagious act. It is also interesting to note that such simple actions like seeing, hearing, reading or even thinking can trigger the act. I am guessing a few have yawned so far. Little interest has been given to this everyday phenomenon in research perhaps because it does not pose a threat so far to the human race. Notwithstanding, modern science is in a search to understand the significance of yawning as well as why it is contagious, but these researchers have found a physiological significance associated to neither yawning nor found a concrete decision as to why we yawn. To a certain estimated degree, they have given some sort of reasonable explanation to this involuntary action.
Various researches have postulated theories. Some of the findings suggest that yawning is a way the body uses to achieve certain goals. One of these philosophies proposes that drowsiness stimulates yawing due to an individual’s inability to stay alert. Consequently, the act of yawing is an act of the mind taking charge to stimulate the lost attention. Therefore, it is a way of keeping oneself alert and at the same time, signalling to others to keep up.
Yawing is also frequently done when doing monotonous and uninteresting acts that require minimal interactions, such as laying down, watching television, driving, studying and attending lectures. Hence, our reply after a yawn, “I’m not feeling sleepy”. Thus, there is higher brain activity after a yawn is accomplished.
Another proposed outcome is that the effect of yawning is to cool the brain. This theory suggests that yawning regulates brain temperature when there is an increase in brain temperature. It is also believed that the tearing of the eye that some do experience at the peak of yawning is as a result of the dissipation of heat from the skull.
One of the main facts about yawning which is generally known is its contagious power. This is so as researchers propose yawning as an act of social empathy. Thus, our ability to withstand a yawner is dependent on our level of empathy as healthy humans. These same research has proven that babies are not susceptible to empathic yawning but are seen to yawn after waking up in the morning or after an afternoon nap. Further study proves that infants are more immune to contagious yawning but infants 4-5 are disposed to emotional yawing or contagious yawning. Essentially, the studies showed that individuals who are mentally challenged in various ways are not prone to neuroimaging or social empathy of yawning. Therefore explaining why babies 0-3 are indisposed to empathy yawns because their brain functionality and mirror neurons have not developed to the point of understanding to aid imitation.
Yawning has also been seen to reduce eye pressure and discomfort experienced especially during sudden altitude change in airplane take off and elevators, and other situations that cause trapping of air in the ear. As initially stated, yawns are the bodies way of defending the body. This is why it is called defence reflex.
The pioneer researcher of yawning said, “Yawning may have the dubious distinction of being the least understood common human behaviour”. This proves to be factual, given that its commonality does not aid in understanding the mystery but rather it is slipping away. One thing to note is that the act of yawning usually aids the functionality of the body in various ways yet to be inputted in research.
In all, there is no scientific consensus on why people yawn asides the traditional knowledge and speculations added with a few findings from researches which are not solid in confirmation but shows the progress of more enlightenment.
By Chinelo Eze