Yawning Because Your Brain Needs Oxygen? Think Again

Cooling the brain and making you more attentive is the role of yawning, not increasing oxygen to the brain, according to recent research.

[P]eople do not yawn because they need oxygen, since experiments show that raising or lowering oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood fails to produce the reaction. Rather, yawning acts as a brain-cooling mechanism. The brain burns up to a third of the calories we consume, and as a consequence generates heat.

Yawning a lot is an indication that I have a migraine on the way. I knew that frequent yawning is a symptom of migraine, but didn’t know its function. I’m not sure if the brain heats up before or during a migraine, but it certainly gets excited. Assuming the increased activity raises the brain’s temperature, yawning to cool it makes sense.

Yes, I did yawn about 30 times when I was looking for a good yawning picture.


8 Responses to “Yawning Because Your Brain Needs Oxygen? Think Again”

  1. Miss Vertigo Says:

    I wish this was a more well-known symptom of migraine, Kerrie. When I’m brewing one – and this is usually one or two days in advance – I yawn constantly, once every twenty seconds or so, to the point where I got chewed out at work over it…but that’s a whole other story : )

    I had no idea of its function either, so thanks for pointing it out. It makes perfect sense.

    I can’t believe it was a problem at work. Would you like me to send an anonymous note to your boss with a copy of the article? 😀


  2. Migraineur Says:

    Hi, Kerrie,

    Poor little hot-brained lion cub!

    I read somewhere that some migraineurs can forestall an impending attack by holding an ice cube against the roof of their mouth. The article speculates that this is effective because it cools the hypothalamus. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure this was on wikipedia, so take it with a grain of salt. (I have never tried it, since I’m usually too busy fumbling with the #@%$@*!! Imitrex packaging to think of finding ice!)

    The contagious yawn bit shows, by the way, that yawning may cool the brain, but that cannot be its sole function. (Why would I yawn if your brain is hot?) I suspect that somewhere deep in evolutionary history, yawning must’ve had communication value, too. And now, even just writing about it, I can’t surpress a yawn of my own.

    Thanks for the laugh about the lion cub. And for the information that you shared. I agree that cooling the brain can’t be the only explanation. I’d never thought of it in communication terms. Having studied communication, I find that thought fascinating.


  3. Racheal Says:

    Hi, I am so glad that I found your blog, I am going to read through it over the next few days.
    I also yawn a lot when I have a migraine brewing, it is a sure sign for me.
    Racheal x

    Thanks for the kind words. Let me know if you have any questions.


  4. Miss Vertigo Says:

    “I can’t believe it was a problem at work. Would you like me to send an anonymous note to your boss with a copy of the article? :D”

    No no, it was a complete misunderstanding, and my boss was the loveliest one in the world; and from his side of the coin I can see how it would have looked as if I was completely bored and disinterested in my job. It’s certainly one of the odder, less recognised symptoms, and once I’d explained it, it was all cleared up and hunky-dory 🙂

    Ah, that makes sense. I’m glad it worked out — and that you have a terrific boss.


  5. Flush puppy Says:

    Honestly, I don’t know whether to cry or scream for joy at reading this and the rest of your blog. Never have I read before that yawning and fluid retention and sighing are symptoms. As you’ve heard countless times before, thank you so much for letting me know I’m not a freak. Going now on day three of poker-in-the-eye headache and neck ache (3rd day of taking imitrex, also a first), this has been a real comfort to me. I live in Seattle, and would appreciate names of the doctors and other folks who have been helpful in treating you. So far I’ve only tried Imitrex, which does work for a while at least. Not tried any diet things yet, but I am going to quit the booze and see what happens. 😦 That’s desperation for you! I need to get my life back!

  6. A. Malik Says:

    Came across while searching for a reason why I “cannot yawn” even when I am feeling a strong urge for it. Is there any explanation for this?

    I do get headache when I feel an urge to yawn (open the mouth as if I was going to but cannot do it even after multiple “attempts”) … headache then picks up.

    Sorry, but I’ve never heard of that before. Sounds incredibly frustrating — I wish you luck in finding some answers.

    Take care,

  7. Jozo Says:

    I just want to know if there is some one that can tell me why on son many,many occasions when I had a tension head ache, for hours, then suddenly I would have, what I call a Yawning attack.
    Within 5 to 10 minutes after the yawning began the head ache would be gone.

  8. Keon Says:

    I have always thought I was just a freak for yawning constantly at the start of a migraine. It is good to know that this is a common symptom. The cooling theory explains a lot. Thanks for the information.

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