What causes excessive yawning? 10 possible conditions

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What Is Excessive Yawning?

Yawning is a mostly involuntary process and is usually triggered by sleepiness or fatigue. It is a very natural response to being tired.

Yawning is the involuntary process of opening the mouth and inhaling deeply, filling the lungs with air. Some yawns are short, and some last for several seconds before an open-mouthed exhale. Watery eyes, tears, runny rose, stretching, or audible sighs may accompany yawning.

The reason humans yawn is unknown, but common triggers include fatigue and boredom. Yawns sometimes occur when you see or hear someone else yawn or simply talk about yawning. Scientists now believe contagious yawning may have something to do with social communication (Brynie, 2011). In addition, new research suggests that yawning helps cool the temperature of the brain.

Excessive yawning means that you yawn often, even when you are not tired. If frequent yawning is negatively affecting your personal or professional life, it may be considered excessive.

What Causes Excessive Yawning?

The following conditions may cause excessive yawning:

  • drowsiness, tiredness, or fatigue
  • disorders that cause sleepiness during the daytime such as narcolepsy
  • sleep disorders such as sleep apnea (when you stop breathing for short periods during sleep)
  • side effects of medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that are used to treat depression or anxiety
  • vasovagal reactions (problems with the function of your vagus nerve) due to bleeding in or around the aorta or, in severe cases, a heart attack

Although less common, excessive yawning could also indicate:

  • epilepsy
  • a brain tumor or stroke
  • multiple sclerosis
  • liver failure

Diagnosing Excessive Yawning

To identify the cause of excessive yawning, your doctor may first discuss your sleep habits. He or she will want to ensure you are getting adequate, restful sleep. This helps rule out excessive yawning resulting from being overtired or having a sleep disorder.

After ruling out sleep issues, your doctor may do other tests, such as an electroencephalogram (EEG) or MRI. An EEG is used to monitor the activity of your brain. It can help diagnose brain tumors, sleep disorders, and diseases of the brain.

MRI scans are used to visualize and assess bodily structures. They are often used to diagnose spinal cord and brain issues, such as a stroke, tumors, and aneurysms. MRI scans are also beneficial for assessing the function of the heart. Your doctor will use these tests to ensure that you are not suffering from heart or brain disorders.

Treating Excessive Yawning

If medications such as SSRIs are causing excessive yawning, your doctor may recommend a lower dosage. Research suggests that lowering the dosage may help reduce excessive yawning, while still producing the desired effects of the medication (Gutiérrez-Alvarez, 2007). Be sure to discuss this with your doctor and refrain from making any changes to your medications without his or her approval.

If excessive yawning is caused by a sleep disorder, your doctor may recommend sleep-aid medications or techniques for getting more restful sleep. For example, if you have sleep apnea, you doctor may recommend wearing a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine when you sleep to help keep your airways open.

If epilepsy, heart problems, stroke, tumors, or liver failure is causing excessive yawning, the underlying condition must be addressed.

Article Sources:

  • Brynie, P. (2011). Why Do You Yawn When You’re Not Sleepy? Psychology Today. Retrieved June 27, 2012, from: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brain-sense/201111/why-do-you-yawn-when-youre-not-sleepy
  • EEG. (2012). MedlinePlus. Retrieved June 27, 2012, from: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003931.htm
  • Gutiérrez-Alvarez, A. M. (2007). Do Your Patients Suffer From Excessive Yawning? Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 115(1), p. 80-81. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0447.2006.00856.x
  • MRI. (2010). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved June 27, 2012, from: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/mri/MY00227
  • Pal, S., and Padala, P. R. (2009). A Case of Excessive Yawning With Citalopram. The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 11(3), p. 125-126. doi: 10.4088/PCC.07l00555
  • Yawning - Excessive. (2011). National Library of Medicine – National Health Institutes. Retrieved June 27, 2012, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003096.htm
Read More

See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.

1

Drowsiness

Feeling abnormally sleepy or tired during the day is commonly known as drowsiness. Drowsiness may lead to additional symptoms, such as forgetfulness or falling asleep at inappropriate times. ...

Read more »

2

Sleeplessness

Insomnia is a serious sleep disorder. It can mean the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night, or the tendency to wake too early before having gotten enough sleep. Insomnia is often used to describ...

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3

Fatigue

Fatigue is a term used to to describe the general overall feeling of tiredness and/or a lack of energy. Other words that are sometimes used in place of fatigue include exhaustion, weariness, and lethargy. According t...

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4

Central Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which you briefly stop breathing during sleep. The moments of apnea can occur repeatedly throughout the night. The interruption of your breathing happens may indicate a proble...

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5

Obesity

Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more. BMI is calculated using a person's weight and height. It can lead to other conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Read more »

6

Heart Attack Overview

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A clot blocks the blood flow to the heart (heart attack), and damages heart muscle. Symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, and a blue or grey tinge to the skin.

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7

Epilepsy Overview

The types of epilepsy include Juvenile Myoclonic, Benign Rolandic, Reflex, West Syndrome, Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, Landau-Kleffner and Rasmussen's Encephalitis Epilepsy.

Read more »

8

Multiple Sclerosis Overview

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. MS can cause varying symptoms that appear with a wide range of severity, from mild discomfort to complete disability.

Read more »

9

Stroke Overview

A stroke (a "brain attack") is a medical emergency in which part of the brain is deprived of oxygen. This occurs when an artery that supplies oxygenated blood to the brain becomes damaged and brain cells begin to die.

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10

Dissection of the Aorta

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

The aorta is a large artery that carries blood out of your heart. If you experience a dissection of the aorta, it means that blood has entered the wall of the artery, between the inner and middle layers. This can happe...

Read more »

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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