Why Can’t You Always ‘Complete’ Yawns?

Repeated incomplete, unfinished yawns are manifestations of underlying anxiety or stress. When you are stressed or anxious, you can’t let go enough to relax fully and acquire that full muscular stretch, causing you to feel annoyed or dissatisfied with the yawn.

There is something about the word ‘yawn’ that makes (most) people yawn as soon as they read it a couple of times. It goes without saying that yawning is contagious, and that you start yawning when you see someone else yawning in front of you.

However, as pleasurable as yawns feel, they sometimes fail to be ‘completed’, leaving us feeling unsettled and even annoyed. You feel an incoming yawn, close your eyes, feel your mouth open and then feel a tinge in your throat, but then your mouth closes itself involuntarily before you feel that the yawn is finished or before you’ve gotten the yawn ‘out’, so to speak.

This is made even worse by the fact that it doesn’t usually happen once; rather, you often continue having incomplete yawns 2-3 minutes apart (partly because you want to complete that yawn).

The face you make when you’ve been having ‘incomplete’ yawns for more than an hour meme

All of this is to say that sometimes you don’t get that sense of relief that you normally enjoy following a ‘good’ yawn. This often leads to frustration, and to get over it, people occasionally sit or stand in different positions to invoke yawns and then “complete” them.

So, why does that happen? Why do yawns not ‘complete’ sometimes?

Yawning is a very interesting activity

As you might have observed, it’s not only humans that yawn; it’s a phenomenon that’s observed in birds, fish, reptiles and 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.

Yawning Baby

Kids’ yawns look so cute. (Credit:Sokolova Maryna/Shutterstock)

You may not realize this, but yawning is not only associated with opening one’s mouth, but is 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% people yawn when they see someone else yawning. Earlier, it was 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 just associated with dipping energy levels.

Yawning only indicates sleep wrong meme

The ‘why we yawn’ question is as old as the Greeks, when Hippocrates thought yawning was a way to remove “bad air” from the lungs. Scientists in the 17th and 18th century thought yawning has something to do with alertness because the act increase blood pressure and oxygen in the blood. This would explain why people stretch and yawn after waking up from their sleep, but research hasn’t shown that neither heart rate nor electrical activity in the brain increase after a good yawn.

Researchers today are still looking at the question and coming up with various different answers. The late Robert Provine thought yawning signals a transitions from sleep to being awake (or vice versa) or boredom to alertness. Some 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 the subject is attuned to others’ emotions.

Why can’t I complete yawns?

It 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 ‘let go’.

You see, yawning involves the stretching of muscles on the face and some muscles in the respiratory tract; it is also sometimes associated with a muscular stretching of the limbs and trunk. In simple words, when you yawn, you end up stretching a bunch 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 elevated when one yawns. Excessive yawning might be a sign on stress and anxiety. This stress when coupled with an unconscious ability to ‘let go’ might lead to the incomplete yawning.

When you are stressed or anxious, you can’t let go enough to relax fully and acquire that full muscular stretch, causing you to feel annoyed or dissatisfied with the yawn.

You might be stressed for a number of reasons at any given moment, so the real culprit behind incomplete yawns is not the yawn itself, but the stress/anxiety you are being affected by at that time.

Suggested Reading


  1. Washington State University
  2. Karger.com
  3. Inge-Marie Eigsti – University of Connecticut
  4. University of Connecticut Today
  5. College of Liberal Arts and Sciences – University of Connecticut
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About the Author:

Ashish is a Science graduate (Bachelor of Science) from Punjabi University (India). He spends a lot of time watching movies, and an awful lot more time discussing them. He likes Harry Potter and the Avengers, and obsesses over how thoroughly Science dictates every aspect of life… in this universe, at least.

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