Excessive yawning

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at December 10, 2015
StartSymptomsExcessive yawning

We all yawn when we're tired. However, excessive yawning can be a big problem. It can denote more than simply a lack of sleep.


Definition & Facts

Excessive yawning is very simply yawning more often than one might expect. Yawning is an interesting part of human anatomy that science just hasn't quite figured out completely yet. We know it's contagious, particularly between best friends.

This is due to being closer to the person than a random stranger on the streets. Family members are also more likely to "spread" their yawns. Yawning also increases as boredom increases, suggested by a study done where college students yawned more often when show a color pattern than a rock video.


The most common cause of excessive yawning is being overly tired. Drowsiness and weariness fit into this category. If afflicted by a disorder that causes excessive sleepiness in the daytime, you could be yawning more often than you would expect to if you did not have the disorder. In rarer cases, there are other causes behind excessive yawning.

A different cause can be vasovagal reaction - which is when the vagus nerve is stimulated. Often, this is caused by a heart attack or an aortic dissection, also known as a tear in the wall of the major artery that leads blood away from the heart. Other causes can be a brain tumor, a stroke, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, medicines in rare cases, and body temperature control issues (whether or not they begin in the hypothalamus) in rare cases.

A study in 2005 done by L. Cattaneo, L. Cucurachi, E. Chierici, and G. Pavesi found that excessive yawning can also be caused by brain stem ischaemia - or insufficient blood flow to the brain, causing an insufficient amount of oxygen coming to the brain. This is one of the rarest causes of yawning too much.

When to see a doctor

You should see a doctor for excessive yawning when it is associated with excessive drowsiness in the daytime. If the yawning is unexplained - i.e. you have been getting enough sleep and you aren't suffering from any of the other causes - you should see a doctor.

If it accompanies balance problems, headaches, sleep disturbances, dizziness, vertigo, abdominal cramping, abdominal pain, falls, difficulty walking, or any symptoms of multiple sclerosis - i.e. tingling, numbness, weakness, problems with vision, depression, fatigue, and an unsteady walk - it is suggested you see a doctor. Symptoms that should cause you to seek a doctor's help are excessive yawning in conjunction with any of the following:

These symptoms can indicate a serious problem, and should be immediately looked at by a doctor.

Treatment & Therapy

Treatments depend on the underlying cause of your excessive yawning. If the yawning is being caused by drowsiness or sleeplessness, medications to help with being able to fall asleep and/or stay asleep can be prescribed. For these two conditions, training to spend less time in bed for activities other than sleeping and avoiding activities that can make it difficult to sleep is also available.

More specifically for drowsiness, other causes can be underlying, such as a head injury, a stroke, a concussion, hypovolemic shock, and even menigitis. Further testing by doctors will be done to determine if one of these is the cause of the drowsiness, and therefore the excessive yawning, and the treatment will vary for each cause. If it happens to be one of the rare cases that the issue is a body temperature control issue, surgery or radiation can be used for a tumor cause.

For issues caused by hormonal deficiencies, medications to supplement the missing hormones can be taken. If the cause is obesity - which does sound odd, but it has happened - the best way to treat it is often beginning to exercise more often, eat better food, and if absolutely necessary, medicine will be prescribed to lose weight. If the case is truly extreme, there are surgeries that can help bypass a majority of the stomach, which means less food can be taken in at a time.

Another rare cause is the dissection of the aorta, which can be treated by medication (to relieve pain and to lower blood pressure), and to remove the torn section of the aorta, a surgery is preformed that will replace it with a synthetic piece that is meant to help the blood flow properly. The heart valve may also be replaced if the dissection was bad enough.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

One of the best ways to stop excessive yawning - if it's not caused by one of the more serious causes - is to change how you breathe. This begins by taking a breath and holding it for a while. It should be held until a medium desire for "fresh" air comes over you.

After exhaling this breath, take a short breath with the diaphragm or abdominal muscles. Relax and then exhale. Continue to do this for one to two minutes, and this will usually help reset and maintain regular breathing without the desire for yawning more often. Another good way to stop excessive yawning is to simply get more sleep - and it's the best way to start prophylaxis of yawning too often during the day.

Simply getting enough sleep helps keep the brain full of oxygen and not carbon dioxide - which has been shown to be one possible reason yawning happens on a normal basis. To avoid a yawn during an episode of yawning too much, snack on cool foods or use a cold compress to keep your brain cool - another cause of some excessive yawning.

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