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Is Yawning Really Contagious?

woman yawning while watching video on laptop
Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley/Shutterstock

Even on a good day, you yawn around a dozen times. Once the need to yawn starts, it’s hard to ignore it. However, it’s even more annoying when someone else’s yawn makes you follow suit.

Why Do People Yawn?

You’ve probably heard that you yawn because of a lack of oxygen to the brain. Science has mostly found that to be untrue, but there are other reasons for taking that wide-mouthed stance that seem to make you more tired than awake.

The most popular theory surrounding why you yawn has to do with the temperature of your brain. That inhale of air that comes with yawning works to cool down your thinkin’ engine. So, when you yawn because you’re tired, it’s your body’s way of cooling your brain down to help you relax.

Why do we yawn when we’re bored then? It’s possibly the same mechanism at work. Your brain is less inactive and thinks it might be time for a nap.

Something interesting relating to the human body and ambient temperature is that both hot and cold conditions can make you sleepy (and possibly cause you to do some extra yawning). Here’s why:

  • Hot Temps: Now that you know your brain makes you yawn more when you’re warm, it may make a little more sense why you might get sleepy in hotter temperatures. The warmth may seem relaxing, but it also makes your body work harder to regulate temperature.
  • Cold Temps: When you’re in extremely cold weather, your body wants to shut down into sleep mode because your brain gets tired when it cools down. Your body’s response to cold temps is why it’s important to try to stay awake when you get stuck in a blizzard and can’t find shelter. Cooler temps making you sleep is also why it’s recommended you don’t keep your bedroom too warm at night.

Why You Yawn When Someone Else Does

Even reading this article about yawning may have your eyes getting droopy and you feeling a yawn coming on.

One of the interesting reasons why people yawn after someone else does is empathy! Of course, just because you don’t yawn in response to a friend’s yawn doesn’t necessarily make you a psychopath, you just aren’t empathetic as some.

There’s also a different possible reason for yawning when someone in the same room as you yawns, and it still has to do with the temperature. When you’re yawning in response to someone who’s in the office with you, in your home, or on the bus near you, it’s often more than just empathy—it’s because you’re both in an atmosphere sharing the same temperature conditions.

Tired of Yawning?

If you want to try to stop yawning when other people do, you don’t have to try to be less empathetic; you simply need to work to cool your temperature down a different way. Staying active, getting enough sleep, and deep breathing are other ways you can put your yawns to rest.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow has been a professional writer for almost two decades. Yvonne has worked for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and much more as a writer and editor. She's also a published poet and a short story writer. Read Full Bio »