Yawning is an involuntary activity in which the mouth opens up wide and the person takes a deep and long breath through the mouth and nose that is then followed by slow exhalation. Yawning provides a sense of comfort to people. A normal yawn generally takes about 4 seconds. It is also quite common for people to stretch their limbs before a yawn which gives him that extra sense of comfort and relaxation. Yawning is considered to be a sign of feeling sleepy or bored. It is also considered to be disrespectful if it is done in meetings or when in the company of others.[1,2,3]
Yawning can also be triggered when a person sees someone else yawning and sometimes even thinking about a yawn may trigger it. However, very little has been done in the name of research as to the mechanism behind this action and the physiological significance of this action. Researchers are still working on trying to find what the body accomplishes by this act. Whether yawning is useful to the body is also something that is being debated by experts.[1,2,3]
While yawning is a natural phenomenon and everybody does it, some people do it rather excessively. This may at times not only be embarrassing but also may indicate some health issues.[1,2,3] The article highlights some of the potential causes for excessive yawning and what can be done about it.
What Causes Excessive Yawning?
Yawning generally is a signal that the body is feeling fatigued and tired. It is also brought out when people see others yawning or they even think about it. Excessive yawning is a sign of overtiredness such as that seen in people who have sleep issues or are depressed. It can also be a side effect of certain medications.
Based on the underlying cause, excessive yawning may occur in association with other symptoms as well like problems with focusing and concentrating, feeling exhausted, or having problems with breathing. Some of the possible causes of excessive Yawning include:
Sleep Issues: This is the most common reason for a person to have excessive yawning. If a person does not get a good night sleep then the next day it is natural for the body to feel tired and exhausted. This results in the person yawning more than normal. If a person suspects that he or she does not get enough sleep or has problems with sleep, then it is recommended to consult a physician for probable treatment for it. Sometimes, people may not even realize that they have problems with sleep. This is seen commonly in people with obstructive sleep apnea who may not realize that they have symptoms of waking up and not getting proper sleep but their quality of life deteriorates steadily. Therefore, it is important to understand the symptoms of sleep apnea which include problems with focus and concentration, slowed reflexes, irritability, and muscle aches. A person with obstructive sleep apnea should consult with a sleep specialist for treatment.
Anxiety: This is also one of the common causes for excessive yawning. Anxiety affects the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. It also impacts the energy levels of a person where he or she will feel fatigued and tired. Al of this can cause the person to yawn excessively, especially when in stress. It has been observed that excessive yawning worsens with worsening anxiety.
Medications: There are also certain medications that can cause excessive yawning. Fatigue and yawning is a common side effect of many over the counter and prescription medicines. Some of the medications that can cause excessive yawning include SSRIs, pain medications, and antihistamines.
Depression: Excessive yawning can be brought about in people battling depression. This can be either due to the antidepressants they take or due to fatigue that is a common symptom of depression. If a person with depression observes that he or she is yawning excessively then it is better to have a chat with their psychiatrist to look for an alternative medication or look for any other potential causes.
Cardiovascular Issues: Sometimes, people with a cardiovascular problem may also have excessive yawning. In fact, it may be an indicator of bleeding around the heart. This is often related to the vagus nerve that runs from the brain through the heart into the stomach. However, excessive yawning if caused by a heart issue will be accompanied by other symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, upper body pains, dizziness, and nausea. If a person notices these symptoms, it is recommended to go to the nearest emergency room to get checked and start treatment.
Stroke: Excessive yawning is also seen in people who have had a stroke. The mechanism behind this according to experts is that yawning regularizes the temperature in the brain after injury from the stroke. Excessive yawning sometimes occurs before a stroke as well. Other symptoms of stroke include drooping of the lower half of the face, weakness in the arms, and problems with speech. Stroke is an emergent medical condition and requires immediate treatment.
Epilepsy: This is yet another cause of excessive yawning. This may happen before, during, or after an event. These seizures begin from the temporal lobe of the brain and hence termed as temporal lobe epilepsy. People with epilepsy also may have excessive yawning due to the fatigue after a seizure.
Multiple Sclerosis: This is one of the more serious causes of excessive yawning. This is because of MS related fatigue or when the body tries to regulate the temperature that is disrupted by multiple sclerosis. MS also at times causes the cortisol levels to rise. This at times also results in a person having excessive yawning due to fatigue that elevated levels of cortisol causes. Other symptoms of MS include severe exhaustion, numbness and tingling in the face, arms, and legs, vision disturbances, problems with gait, and dizziness.
Liver Failure: A person in the last stage of liver failure may have the symptom of excessive yawning. It is believed to be caused due to the extreme fatigue that the liver disease causes. Other symptoms that may be associated with it include appetite loss, nausea, diarrhea, confusion, excessive sleepiness, and upper and lower extremity edema.
Brain Tumor: In extremely rare cases, excessive yawning might indicate a brain tumor. This will be accompanied by other symptoms like headaches, personality changes, weakness and stiffness on the one side of the body, problems with memory, and vision disturbances.
How To Deal With Excessive Yawning?
If a person suspects that the excessive yawning may be due to an underlying medical condition then a physician consultation is recommended to get to the bottom of the cause. The treatment will be determined depending on the cause. If sleep problem is causing the person to yawn excessively then addressing the issue with a sleep specialist is effective. The physician may provide valuable inputs on how to get a restful sleep at night.
If medication is believed to be a cause of excessive yawning then either changing the medication or stopping it altogether can stop this process. If any health problem is causing a person to yawn excessively then addressing the condition with the appropriate specialist and getting treated will stop the excessive yawning.
In conclusion, yawning is a natural process which is often an indicator that the body is tired and requires rest. Sometimes, it is also a signal that a person is anxious. While yawning is a natural reaction, excessive yawning may at times indicate some medical problems or issues with medications that the person may be taking.[1,2,3]
It is recommended that if a person believes that he or she is yawning excessively and the cause of it is not clear to the individual then it is better to consult with a physician so that appropriate cause and solution can be found for the problem and the excessive yawning can be controlled.[1,2,3]
If other symptoms are associated with excessive yawning as mentioned above which may indicate a more serious problem like stroke or cardiovascular issues emergent medical consultation is mandatory so that treatment can be started immediately so that the overall prognosis of the patient improves.[1,2,3]