We yawn to regulate our brain and body temperature. The reason we yawn right before bedtime, though, isn’t necessarily because we’re tired. It’s actually because our body temperature gets hotter when we need sleep. Thus, yawning cools down the body.
However, the correlation between the need to sleep and the act of yawning isn’t always interrelated. It generally helps to act as a thermoregulator for our body.
It is exciting and strange to understand why we yawn and why it seems contagious to think that the simple act has a purpose. It’s even more bizarre because we yawn as early as in the womb of our mothers.
People believe that when one yawns, they receive more oxygen, thus supplying the brain to function longer without sleep essentially. However, this is incorrect, at least partially. It doesn’t actually have to do with oxygen itself.
It’s believed that it helps cools the brain makes us more alert when we are in a sleepy state of mind or when our brain needs a minor cooldown.
Our brains are kind of like overheated computers. An overheated computer cannot properly function and must cool off to “think.” The same thing goes with our brains, and yawning is the act that cools us off. So, basically, the theory that we yawn when we are tired is correct in some instances.
This was tested in multiple studies. However, one 2007 study published in the journal, Evolutionary Psychology, found that people yawn 41% of the time when they have a hot compress put on their forehead versus yawning only 9% of the time when having a cold compress on their forehead.
But then why is it so contagious?
It’s been discovered that when we see another person yawn, a little segment of our brain known as the amygdala becomes activated. Interestingly, however, the amygdala is the fear factor in our brain. The amygdala causes a fight or flight response and prepares us for danger. So, we yawn when others yawn because we’re afraid? Not exactly.
It’s not entirely understood yet why it seems so contagious or the purpose of yawning when we see another yawn. However, some believe it prepares us for danger when we feel threatened, nervous, or unsure of a certain situation. But, yawning when someone else yawns may also signify the need to become more alert or pay attention to that person better.
Interestingly, contagious yawning has been displayed in humans and chimpanzees, wolves, dogs, and more. The absolute true reason why we yawn at others is a mystery. Nevertheless, it is in our nature that we mimic others. It’s how we learn and how we function.