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Feb 16, 2011

Yawning: One of the Best-kept Secrets in Neuroscience

Written by Dr. Caroline Leaf

Can you believe that yawning is great for your brain? And you thought it was bad manners to yawn in public!

In fact, neuroscientists are telling us that yawning has 12 neurological benefits the sum of which increase our intellectual functioning as well as decreasing toxicity in our minds (pubmed.gov). It basically activates an area in the brain called the precuneus, which is involved in consciousness, self-reflection and memory. Yawning also helps regulate the temperature and metabolism of your brain.

Years ago I used to practice as a Communication Pathologist, and one of the techniques we used for voice therapy was yawning, which helped to reduce hypertension in the throat and anxiety while performing. And it really worked so well for my patients, especially with regards to being more relaxed and alert. At that stage I didn’t realize the impact on the brain. If I did I wouldn’t have told my husband, Mac, to stop yawning so much: he yawns about 10-20 times by the time we get to the office…a 15 minute drive. But Mac is so fast and alert and gets more done in a day than most people…and now I know one of his secrets. (and I have been yawning passively along with him and benefitting!)

Yes we do yawn when we are tired or bored or when we are exposed to light, but neuroscience shows that yawning actually has a type of reboot function, which helps to increase our alertness making us more cognitively aware. It sort of wipes out the tiredness and refocuses us.

Yawning activates an amazing pathway in the brain dealing with empathy and the result is an increase in the quantity and quality of loving empathy and an increase in conscious self-reflection.

Yawning, as I am sure you are aware, is neurologically contagious: when you see someone yawn, you yawn too.

Some of the other benefits of yawning include increasing memory, improved introspection, improves your sense of timing, enhances pleasure and lowers stress.

So stop what you are doing and yawn 7 times…your eyes may water, but it’s worth it!

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