We all know the feeling: that sudden, uncontrollable urge to yawn. And we’ve all been there: trying to stifle a yawn in public, only to have it come out as an embarrassing squeak. Yawning is one of those things that we all do, but we don’t really know why.
The scientific study of yawning is called gelology, and there is still a lot that we don’t understand about why we do it. We do know that yawning is contagious – try suppressing a yawn in a room full of people and see how long you last! – and that it is linked to fatigue and boredom. But there is still a lot of mystery surrounding this seemingly simple act.
Here’s what we do know about yawning:
When we yawn, our breathing deepens and our heart rate slows. This decrease in heart rate is thought to help us cool down our brain.
Yawning is contagious because we mimic the facial expressions of those around us. When we see someone else yawning, we imitate their facial expression, which then triggers our own yawn.
Yawning is linked to fatigue and boredom because it is often a response to low levels of stimulation. When we are tired or bored, we are less likely to pay attention to our surroundings, which can lead to yawning.
So why do we yawn?
The most likely explanation is that yawning helps to keep us alert. When we yawn, our breathing deepens and our heart rate slows, which increases the amount of oxygen-rich blood flowing to our brain. This increase in oxygenated blood helps to keep us awake and alert.
Yawning may also help to cool down our brain. When we yawn, the air that we exhale is warmer than the air that we inhale. This difference in temperature is thought to help regulate the temperature of our brain.
So, next time you find yourself yawning, don’t be embarrassed – you’re just trying to stay awake and alert!