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Excessive yawning can be a sign of stress and other medical conditions

by DrPrem Jagyasi
Excessive yawning

Do you keep track of your yawning frequency? It is such an involuntary action that doesn’t catch our awareness. Sometimes you yawn at the wrong time and at the wrong place; that is embarrassing! You yawn either when you are tired or get bored. Recent researches state that yawning is a sort of thermal regulator that cools off your brain. It is contagious too. 

Normally, yawning occurs from tiredness. When you feel sleepy, you yawn within short time intervals. Now, what is excessive yawning? It happens when you yawn more than once per minute. Well, that can also happen when you feel sleepy. That’s nothing to worry about. But if it happens more than often, there may be some underlying medical condition, physical or mental.

Stress and anxiety – probable cause of excessive yawning:

anxiety in lady

Anxiety driven yawning is very common which can manifest in the following ways:

  • Getting a feel that you need to yawn round the clock.
  • A feeling of perpetual breathlessness.
  • Feeling suffocated.
  • Feeling short of breath anxiety.
  • Feeling of lacking sufficient oxygen in your system.
  • Breathing becomes a conscious act and you strive hard to achieve it.

But there can be other underlying medical conditions as well:

Extreme fatigue:

Fatigue

Yawning is a natural outcome of fatigue but its frequency can rise in case of extreme fatigue. You need to study the underlying cause of this unexplained fatigue that is leading to excessive yawning.

Sleep disorder:

Sleep-deprived

If you are getting insufficient sleep, it is likely to increase your yawning frequency. This signals that your brain demands more rest. You will go on yawning till your brain cools down. You need to check your lifestyle to maintain a steady sleep cycle. If you are highly stressed or bogged down by anxieties, your sleep would be affected resulting in frequent bouts of yawning. Sleep apnea and insomnia are other common sleep disorders causing this problem.

Medications:

Medication

Certain medications are also responsible to some extent for excessive yawning as you feel drowsy throughout the day. Even regular intake of sleeping pills can cause this symptom. Antihistamines, pain killers, antidepressants or SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) are other contributors to this problem.

Vasovagal Reaction:

 heart rate

Any enhanced activity in the vagus nerve can result in excessive yawning. This nerve runs from the brain passing through the throat and abdomen. When this nerve gets active, there is a significant drop in blood pressure and heart rate. This can indicate some serious medical condition.

Though this is of rare occurrence, if you experience excessive yawning without any sleep disorder or fatigue, you may be having some heart problems. Often, enhanced activity of vagus nerve can result due to internal bleeding in the heart or around the aorta.

Epilepsy:

epilepsy

Specific brain damages in the brain causes epileptic seizures. The irritation caused in the brain sends abnormal signals of which excessive yawning is one outcome. It is another rare occurrence that demands thorough analysis.  Since excessive yawning is mostly related to brain ailments, those suffering from epilepsy can experience this after a seizure.

Brain tumor or stroke:

Prevent strokes

Again the similar abnormality in brain signals that arise from a brain tumor or stroke can cause frequent yawning. Scientists also discovered that any lesion in the brain stem increases the frequency. The nerves leaving the brain gets irritated due to these lesions making you yawn within short time intervals.

Multiple sclerosis:

Excessive yawning

This may be another possible reason for your frequent bouts of yawning. A study from the Journal of Sleep Medicine states that those suffering from multiple sclerosis are often subjected to thermoregulatory dysfunction causing frequent yawning. It also mentioned that, though this yawning seemed to be quite irritating, it made patients feel better.

Other possible causes may be a liver failure (almost at the end stage), compression of the hypothalamus or pituitary gland, supranuclear palsy or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Diagnosing excessive yawning:

MRI

Certainly, you need to see a doc if you feel discomfort due to excessive yawning. He will go for a thorough analysis like checking your sleep schedule or advising you for an EEG (to detect epilepsy) or MRI scan to detect brain disorder and evaluate the functioning of the heart. Treatments are suggested based on the diagnosis.

Excessive yawning always does not pose serious threats. If it is arising from fatigue, stress and sleep disorder, it can be treated easily. But one should keep in mind that this is not an ailment but just a symptom of some underlying cause, mild or severe. Therefore, the focus should be always in root cause analysis.