Yawning is something we mostly stifle --
after all, itís embarrassing to yawn in the face of
another as if to announce that you didnít get enough
sleep or, worse, that youíre bored. Thatís a shame --
because researchers have discovered that the humble yawn
is a major contributor to mental alertness... keeps our
brains properly cooled (literally)... and helps us to
shift from one activity to another, even to adjust from
one time zone to another. They recommend using yawning
consciously as a tool to make life better. For example,
yawn soon after awakening to rev up your brain for the
day or at night to help calm yourself and promote sleep.
The Science of the Yawn
believe that we yawn to bring oxygen from the air into
the body, but thatís wrong, says psychotherapist Patt
Lind-Kyle, MA, the author of
Heal Your Mind, Rewire
She calls yawning an "exercise for the brain" based on
the growing number of studies that have found that it
facilitates mental efficiency. Yawning does its magic by
literally forcing extra
directly to the brain. When you yawn, your facial
muscles broadly contract and then relax, and this action
pushes oxygen-rich blood into the brainís prefrontal
cortex, the location of the "executive function" that
covers planning, organization, decision-making,
personality expression and many other crucial
The yawn also sends blood to stimulate an
area called the precuneus, which is involved in
consciousness along with memory and motor coordination.
As far as serving to cool the brain, a 2007 study at
State University of New York-Albany found that
performing difficult mental tasks, such as processing
lots of information, actually increases brain
temperature. Though weíre all familiar with the way
ongoing mental labor can trigger yawning, itís not
because it is tiring. Again, the yawn sends blood to the
brain to curtail its rising temperature, which is how it
helps to maintain mental efficiency. Interestingly, both
yawning and body thermoregulation seem to be controlled
by the same area of the brain, the hypothalamus.
Putting Your Yawns to Work
Okay, so now we know that yawning can
increase our efficiency in a number of areas... how can
we take better advantage of this? Just decide to yawn
and then do it -- and I mean do a real face-stretcher!
Iíll tell you how in a moment, but first here are some
situations in which Lind-Kyle suggests adding a yawn...
To stimulate better thinking.
When you are preparing for an exam, a presentation
or an important conversation, you can enhance your
performance by yawning several times first. During
an exam, donít be shy about yawning when you find
yourself losing focus or starting to stumble in your
thoughts -- it will help.
To reduce jet lag and reset energy
At 20 weeks gestation, fetuses start to develop a
wake/sleep pattern and as part of the process, they
yawn... a lot. Lind-Kyle says that we can
consciously use yawning to help reset our wake/sleep
patterns, including when suffering jet lag. To
start, yawn five times or so as soon as you get off
the airplane. When youíve experienced how well this
refreshes you, Lind-Kyle says you may soon begin to
do it intuitively -- youíll find yourself yawning
whenever you feel yourself starting to drag. She
says that yawning can be used in this manner to help
you acclimate to high altitudes and to reset your
energy level as you switch from one activity to
another, such as from sleep to wakefulness.
To improve your mood... and, possibly
even your relationships.
Yawning is associated with increased levels of
the neurotransmitter released from the hypothalamus
that is associated with pleasure, motivation and
sociability. Lind-Kyle says that when two people
it can help diminish tension in the relationship...
and fortunately, yawning is highly contagious, so
itís easy for both of you to get in on the act. If
nothing else, a shared yawning session should make
for a few ice-breaking laughs.
Curiously, although yawning serves to stimulate the
brain, a deep yawn and wide stretch also relax the
body. Lind-Kyle, who leads meditation classes,
always starts with a healthy yawn, which she says
gets people relaxed quickly. She said that bringing
on a few deep yawns at bedtime may help you get to
How to Bring on a Yawn
We think of yawns as automatic, but itís
surprisingly easy to make yourself yawn...
Focus thoughts on yawning.
Yawns are not only contagious from person to person
-- even thinking about a yawn can help trigger one,
says Lind-Kyle. Close your eyes and picture a yawn,
or say the word "yawn" repeatedly to encourage one.
Fake a yawn... or two... or three
until a real one sets in.
Lind-Kyle says she generally gets a real yawn after
one or two fakes, but however long it takes, stick
with it -- it will happen.
Consciously slow your breathing.
The decreased oxygen may help trigger a yawn --
flaring your nostrils as you breathe in may make
this happen faster.
And finally, the best yawn is one you
fully experience, Lind-Kyle says. So go all the way --
open your mouth wide, scrunch your face fully, and take
a deep, full breath. Just be ready to explain yourself
if youíre in company!
Source(s): Patt Lind-Kyle,
MA, psychotherapist based in Nevada City, California,
and author of
Heal Your Mind, Rewire