Yawning, also known as oscitation, is a bodily activity that occurs in most vertebrates. It can be a sign of boredom, or just the body’s attempt to regulate itself. Why do we really yawn?
Next time you’re with a group of your friends, try this out. Take a big yawn, don’t forget to cover your mouth, and wait to see how many other people yawn. There’s a good chance your yawn will be contagious. In fact, before you even finish reading this story, it is likely that you’ll yawn at least once. Not that I’m trying to bore you, but just reading about yawning will make you yawn.
Yawning doesn’t always mean you are bored. Adelie penguins actually yawn as part of their wooing ritual. Couples face each other and the males stand with their beaks wide open and face towards the sky.
As for why people yawn…good question. Nobody really knows why we yawn. For a while scientists believed that you yawn when there is too much carbon dioxide and not enough oxygen in your blood. Part of your brain realized this and triggered you to yawn. As your mouth stretches you inhale deeply, sending a shot of oxygen to the lungs and into the bloodstream. That theory went out the window because nobody can prove it.
The reason yawns are contagious? Power of suggestion perhaps. If you’re out late with your friends after school, you’re probably tired. You’re probably on the verge of a yawn, too, and seeing one person do it is enough to drive everyone to yawns.
Here are a few interesting facts about yawning, that will make you yawn.
1. Thinking or reading about oscitation will make you just do it. You will be yawning in a few minutes or so…if not right now!
2. There is still no clear basis regarding the mechanism of yawning. Several causes have been attributed to this activity. Hippocrates thought of yawning as a way to decrease one’s fever, while some modern scientists postulated it as the body’s way of getting the oxygen that it needs. But that theory is contradicted by modern science.
3. Yawning occurs as early as 20 weeks after conception and several 4D ultrasound image shows that fetuses as young as 11 weeks old know how to yawn. Experts attribute this to the development of the brain during this stage in the womb.
4. The average yawn lasts six seconds. Heart rate significantly increases during these six (or lesser) seconds.
5. Yawning is truly contagious. This activity starts to become ‘transmissible’ in the first one to two years of a person’s life. Proof of yawning’s infectiousness? Several studies show that when a single person in a group begins to yawn, more than half of the assembly will follow right after – in as short as 5 minutes. The other lesser half will be enticed to yawn too.
6. Yawning is more contagious in best buddies. Studies show that persons related to you – whether genetically or emotionally – are most likely to ‘catch’ your yawn.
7. Yawning helps cool down the brain. Studies show that yawning episodes increase during wintertime, in order to usher cool exterior air to the individuals’ brains.
8. Yawning is an activity that can help athletes prepare prior to a competition – you can ask Apolo Ohno, a speedskater who is notorious for his pre-contest yawning ritual. Since yawning cools the brain, (especially the frontal lobes) the athlete will be able to improve his concentration and attention span prior to the race.
9. Yawning often occurs when a person is bored, as proven by a 1986 study of college students who oscitated more during a lackadaisical colour video rather than a hard-hitting, head-banging rock music vid.
10. Animals yawn too! Biologists have observed this activity in primates, specifically chimpanzees, macaques and baboons. Dogs catch the contagiousness of yawning too; you can expect your pooch to do the deed right after you do.