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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).
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.
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; rather, they may actually tell a thing or two about your personality.
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.
What happens during ‘incomplete’ yawns?
It might sound a little unbelievable at first, but repeated incomplete, unfinished yawns are manifestations of underlying anxiety or stress.
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.
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.
- Washington State University
- Inge-Marie Eigsti – University of Connecticut
- University of Connecticut Today
- College of Liberal Arts and Sciences – University of Connecticut