Virtually everyone has let out a yawn during a dull work meeting or while pouring a cup of coffee in the morning when you’re up earlier than you want to be. But there’s a difference between the occasional yawn and excessive yawning.
If you find yourself yawning several times throughout the day, you may be tired, sure, or there might be something else going on. According to experts, there are several reasons someone may yawn excessively. Wondering what your body is trying to tell you? Keep reading to find out the possible causes and for advice on what to do.
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Why Am I Excessively Yawning? Here Are 6 Possible Causes
1. You’re dehydrated
“Excessive yawning can be a sign of dehydration,” says John Landry, RRT, a registered respiratory therapist and CEO of Respiratory Therapy Zone. “If you’re not drinking enough fluids, you may find yourself yawning more frequently,” he says. This is because not drinking enough fluids decreases the amount of blood flow to the brain. This can cause someone to feel fatigued, which in turn, can bring on yawning. In fact, go ahead and take a big gulp of water before reading on.
2. It could be your medication
If you take an SSRI, levodopa (a class of medications that affect the central nervous system), a dopamine agonist or an MAO B inhibitor (both used to treat Parkinson’s disease), morphine or methadone, Sleepline Chief Medical Officer Dr. Danielle Kelvas, MD, says that yawning could be one of the side effects you experience. The reason why certain medications can cause excessive yawning is that yawning is controlled by several neurotransmitters in the brain, which these medications can impact. Most people who take these medications don’t experience excessive yawning, but it can happen, so it’s good to be aware of it.
3. You recently had a stroke
“We often see excessive yawning in patients after they've had a stroke or if they suffer from Parkinson's disease,” Dr. Kelvas says. Both strokes and Parkinson’s disease impact the brain and can cause thermoregulatory dysfunction, which is when there are abnormal changes in body temperature. Excessive yawning can be a response to these unexpected changes. Landry adds that for this reason, excessive yawning may also be a sign of an underlying brain injury or neurological disorder.
4. You’re stressed out
Both Dr. Kelvas and Landry say that yawning can be a result of anxiety or stress. “Stress and anxiety lead to an increase in the production of the hormone cortisol, which can stimulate yawning,” Landry explains.
Related: 92 Ways to Stress Less This Week
5. You have sleep apnea or another respiratory condition
“Some lung conditions can cause excessive yawning,” Landry says. One biggie is sleep apnea. “This is a condition in which a person's airway becomes partially or completely blocked during sleep, disrupting their breathing and causing them to wake up frequently. Sleep apnea can cause excessive yawning and other symptoms such as daytime fatigue, snoring and difficulty concentrating,” Landry says.
Sleep apnea isn’t the only respiratory condition that can cause excessive yawning. Landry says that chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma can cause it too. “COPD is a group of lung conditions that cause breathing problems and can cause symptoms such as yawning, shortness of breath and coughing. Asthma is a lung condition that causes the airways to narrow and become inflamed, leading to symptoms such as yawning, wheezing, and difficulty breathing,” he explains.
6. You’re tired
It’s the reason you’re probably aware of, but it still deserves a spot on this list because it’s true: If you’re yawning throughout the day, it could be because you didn’t get enough sleep. “Yawning is often a sign of sleepiness or fatigue, so if you are yawning excessively, it could be a sign that you are not getting enough sleep or that you are feeling physically or mentally exhausted,” Landry says. Sometimes, the most obvious answer is the right one.
How To Treat Excessive Yawning and When To See a Doctor
If you find yourself yawning throughout the day, don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that you have an underlying neurological disorder you weren’t aware of or diagnose yourself with sleep apnea even though you’ve never been told you snore. First, start with the obvious question: Are you getting enough sleep? For the record, that means getting between seven to nine hours of sleep a night, consistently.
Next, start with the second most obvious question: Are you stressed out? If so, consider your yawning a sign to dial up the self-care and, if needed, book an appointment with a therapist who can teach you coping tools for managing anxiety. Landry also offers up the reminder to drink plenty of water, since dehydration can cause excessive yawning too.
Still concerned? Book an appointment with your primary health provider who can help determine if your excessive yawning could be caused by a respiratory condition, neurological condition or be related to any medications you’re taking. Both doctors say that in these cases, there are likely treatments available that can help decrease yawning. For example, Dr. Kelvas says that a doctor may choose to alter someone’s medications to lessen this side effect. Landry says that if it is respiratory-related, a doctor may suggest oxygen therapy if there is a low level of oxygen in the blood. The bottom line is that there are often solutions available, so don’t be shy about asking your doctor for help.
Excessive yawning can be annoying, but consider it a sign that your body is trying to communicate something to you. Or maybe that Zoom meeting you’re in is just super boring. Hey, we’ve all been there.