What causes excessive yawning? 10 possible conditions
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.
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:
- a brain tumor or stroke
- multiple sclerosis
- liver failure
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.
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.
- 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
See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.
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