If you find yourself yawning much more than usual on a daily basis, there could be more than tiredness or boredom going on.
Yawning is a mostly involuntary process of opening the mouth, breathing in deeply, and filling the lungs with air. While there’s no precise cause of yawning, it’s often viewed as a natural response to being tired. In fact, yawning is usually triggered by sleepiness or fatigue.
It’s natural to yawn late in the day as you get tired, or perhaps when you’re bored. However, excessive yawning may be caused by other health conditions.
Read on to learn the possible causes of excessive yawning, and when it’s a good idea to see a doctor for help.
A yawn is an involuntary reflex where you open your mouth, breathe in deeply, and then quickly exhale.
Researchers aren’t exactly sure why yawning occurs, but common triggers include fatigue and boredom. Yawns may also occur when you talk about yawning or see or hear someone else yawn.
Some yawns are short, and some last for several seconds before an open-mouthed exhale. Watery eyes, stretching, or audible sighs may accompany yawning.
While excessive yawning is often attributed to being sleepy or bored, it may be a symptom of an underlying medical condition. Below are some of the most common—and less common—causes to consider.
The exact cause of excessive yawning isn’t known. However, it may occur as a result of the following:
- drowsiness, tiredness, or fatigue
- sleep deprivation,
due toinsomnia, stress, or shift work
- sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy
- side effects of medications that are used to treat depression or anxiety, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), though research shows this type of yawning is not attributed to daytime sleepiness
Other possible causes
Although less common, excessive yawning could also be a sign of health conditions that can include:
- a heart attack, especially if you are experiencing other common related symptoms such as chest pain or discomfort, upper body discomfort, lightheadedness, and shortness of breath
- epilepsy, particularly in the
presence offrontal lobe involvement neurological disorders, such as multiple sclerosis (MS)
- liver failure, which may be experienced
- a brain tumor, though this is
Certain conditions can cause a vasovagal reaction, which can result in excessive yawning, in addition to other symptoms. During a vasovagal reaction, heart rate and blood pressure
- severe coughing
- being overheated
- standing up too quickly
To identify the cause of excessive yawning, a doctor may first ask you about any medications you take as well as your sleep habits. They’ll want to make sure that you’re getting adequate restful sleep. This can help them determine whether your excessive yawning may occur as a result of being fatigued or having a sleep disorder.
If they can rule out sleep issues, a doctor may perform diagnostic tests to find another possible cause for excessive yawning.
An electroencephalogram (EEG) is one of the tests that may be used. An EEG measures the electrical activity in the brain. It can help diagnose certain conditions that may affect the brain,
- parasomnias, such as sleep walking
- brain injuries
A doctor may also order an MRI scan. Also called magnetic resonance imaging,
These pictures are often used
- spinal cord and brain disorders, such as tumors and MS
- heart problems
- abnormalities in the liver and other major organs
- injuries or other issues with the joints
If medications are causing excessive yawning, a doctor may recommend a lower dosage. Make sure to talk with a doctor before making any changes to your medications. You should never stop taking medications without approval from a medical professional.
If excessive yawning is occurring as a result of a sleep disorder, a doctor may recommend sleep-aid supplements, such as melatonin, or other medications, if necessary, and techniques for getting more restful sleep. These
- adhering to a regular sleep schedule, where you go to bed and wake up around the same time—even on weekends
- exercising regularly to reduce stress and to help burn energy during the day so you sleep better at night—as long as you’re not working out right before bedtime
- avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and large meals before bed
- keeping your room dark, cool, and quiet to help you fall asleep quickly
- removing electronic devices from your bedroom to prevent distractions and possible sleep-disrupting blue light
If excessive yawning is a symptom of a serious medical condition, such as epilepsy or liver failure, then the underlying problem must be treated immediately.
Due to the many possible causes of excessive yawning, it’s important to speak with a medical professional who can help you determine the underlying cause.
Talk with a doctor if you’ve noticed a sudden increase in your yawning, especially if you’ve been yawning frequently for no apparent reason. They can help determine whether or not excessive yawning is occurring as a result of a medical condition.
You may also consider consulting with a doctor if you recently started taking medications for an underlying condition and have started yawning a lot more than you typically do.
You can assist with the diagnostic process at your appointment by bringing a detailed list of your current medications, history of medical conditions, as well as when you started experiencing symptoms of unusual yawning, and how often it occurs.
Excessive yawning may mean that you are tired, drowsy, or fatigued. However, it can also be a sign of a medical condition, such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy, or a reaction to a medication.
If you find you are yawning excessively, it may be best to schedule an appointment with a doctor to determine the cause. In some cases, the excessive yawning may resolve once you treat the underlying cause.