5 things your yawns are trying to tell you

March 27, 2017 Swedish Health Team


Tired mother with a baby trying to work on laptop at home and yawning


In this article:

  • Yawning isn’t a sign of boredom.

  • Yawning helps your body cool down or signal issues.

  • Talk to your Swedish physician if your yawning causes concern.

You know what a yawn is. You might be yawning right now because just thinking about a yawn may be enough to induce one! But to get technical, yawning, also known as oscitation, is the involuntary act of opening the mouth wide and drawing a big breath that fills the lungs, followed by a large exhalation of breath.

What we think of yawning

A lot of people believe yawning is a sign of boredom, so in many situations, it’s considered socially unacceptable. Have you ever been in an important meeting and felt the urge to yawn? If you did yawn, others might have looked at you like you were disrespectful. If they knew anything about what yawning truly is, they would know it’s perfectly OK.

While you may have written off the occasional yawn as just being tired, and you very well may be, your yawns might be telling you more than that. From a simple bodily function to serious health concerns, this is why you yawn:  

  1. You need to cool down. Or more specifically, your brain does. Taking a deep breath when you yawn moves hot blood from the brain and brings cooler air up from the lungs.  Yawns are believed to be your body’s natural radiator system. You might be surprised to see people at the gym yawn; it’s just their body trying to cool things down.
  2. You’re tired. When you don’t get enough sleep, your brain temperature increases, so you may yawn to cool it down. Unfortunately, it does little to actually wake you up.  It just can help you focus a little bit better as the brain cools. If your yawning is excessive due to lack of sleep, you should check with a doctor to see if you have a sleep disorder.
  3. You just saw someone yawn. Yawning can be contagious. When you’re talking to or looking at someone and they yawn, it may trigger a yawn in you. Some studies suggest it’s an unspoken form of communication that shows empathy.
  4. You’re on certain medications.  Yawning can be a side effect of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs, medications commonly used to treat anxiety or depression.
  5. You have a medical condition. Excessive yawning can be associated with heart disease, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, liver failure or hypothyroidism as the body starts sending signals that something is wrong. If this is happening to you, see your doctor for a checkup.

So, the next time you feel the urge to yawn, it’s nothing to hide! It’s just your body trying to tell you something.

Find a doctor

If you have questions about yawning or other symptoms, contact the primary care department at Swedish. We can accommodate both in-person and virtual visits.

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.  

Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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