Repeated incomplete, unfinished yawns are often manifestations of underlying anxiety or stress. When you are stressed or anxious, you can’t “let go” enough to relax fully and achieve that full muscular stretch, causing a feeling of annoyance or dissatisfaction with the yawn.
There is something about the word ‘yawn’ that makes (many) people yawn as soon as they read it a couple of times. It goes without saying that yawning is contagious, perhaps most obviously because most people start yawning when they see someone else yawning!
However, as pleasurable as yawns feel, they sometimes fail to be ‘completed’, leaving us feeling unsettled or even annoyed. You sense an incoming yawn, close your eyes, open your mouth, and even feel that familiar tingle in your throat, but then your mouth closes itself involuntarily before the yawn is fully finished, before you’ve gotten the yawn ‘out’, so to speak.
This is made even worse by the fact that this doesn’t just happen once; often, you will continue having incomplete yawns 2-3 minutes apart (partly because you want to complete that yawn).
All of this is to say that sometimes you don’t get the sense of relief that you normally enjoy following a ‘good’ yawn.
So, why does that happen? Why do yawns not ‘complete’ sometimes?
What is yawning anyway?
As you have probably observed, particularly if you have a pet cat, humans are not the only creatures that yawn; it’s a phenomenon observed in birds, fish, reptiles and many other mammals. From a purely biological standpoint, a yawn is a paroxystic cycle associated with a cascade of movements over a 5- to 10-second period.
You may not realize this, but yawning is not only about opening one’s mouth; it’s also a generalized stretching of various muscles in the face, neck and respiratory tract.
Yawning is not just related to sleep
It’s interesting to note that 60-70% of people yawn when they see someone else yawning. It was once believed that yawning was a precursor to sleep, i.e., if a person yawns a few times, it means that they are ready to head to bed. However, it has recently been revealed that yawns are not exclusively associated with dipping energy levels.
The ‘why we yawn’ question dates back to the ancient Greeks, where Hippocrates thought yawning was a way to remove “bad air” from the lungs. Scientists in the 17th and 18th century thought yawning had something to do with alertness because the act increases blood pressure and oxygen in the blood. This would explain why people stretch and yawn after waking up from a nap, but research hasn’t shown that either heart rate or electrical activity in the brain increase after a good yawn.
Researchers are still analyzing the question and coming up with different theories. The late Robert Provine thought yawning signals a transition from sleep to being awake (or vice versa), or from boredom to alertness. Others suggest that we yawn to decrease the temperature of the brain.
A 2010 study from researchers Deborah Fein and Inge-Marie Eigsti, professors of psychological sciences (University of Connecticut), and their colleagues Molly Helt and Peter Snyder, found that the act of yawning may be an unconscious sign that a subject is attuned to others’ emotions.
Why can’t I complete yawns? Stress.
This might sound a little unbelievable at first, but repeated incomplete, unfinished yawns are manifestations of underlying anxiety or stress, coupled with not being able to fully ‘let go’.
You see, yawning involves the stretching of muscles on the face and some muscles in the respiratory tract; it is also associated with a muscular stretching of the limbs and trunk. In simple words, when you yawn, you end up stretching a lot of muscles in the face and chest. This stretching of muscles sends signals to the part of the brain that is associated with experiencing good sensations.
The Thompson cortisol hypothesis suggests that cortisol, a hormone that plays a significant role in stress, is briefly elevated when one yawns. Excessive yawning might be a sign of stress and anxiety. This stress, when coupled with an unconscious inability to ‘let go’, might lead to the incomplete yawning.
When you are stressed or anxious, you can’t relax fully and acquire that full muscular stretch, causing you to feel annoyed or dissatisfied with the yawn.
You might be stressed for any number of reasons at any given moment, so it’s important to know that the real culprit behind incomplete yawns is not the yawn itself, but rather the stress/anxiety you are experiencing at that time!