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Yawning Because Your Brain Needs Oxygen? Think Again

Yawn_cool_brain
Cooling the brain and making you more attentive is the role of yawning, not increasing oxygen to the brain, according to recent research.

[P]eople do not yawn because they need oxygen, since experiments show that raising or lowering oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood fails to produce the reaction. Rather, yawning acts as a brain-cooling mechanism. The brain burns up to a third of the calories we consume, and as a consequence generates heat.

Yawning a lot is an indication that I have a migraine on the way. I knew that frequent yawning is a symptom of migraine, but didn’t know its function. I’m not sure if the brain heats up before or during a migraine, but it certainly gets excited. Assuming the increased activity raises the brain’s temperature, yawning to cool it makes sense.

Yes, I did yawn about 30 times when I was looking for a good yawning picture.

31 Responses to Yawning Because Your Brain Needs Oxygen? Think Again

  1. Miss Vertigo says:

    I wish this was a more well-known symptom of migraine, Kerrie. When I’m brewing one – and this is usually one or two days in advance – I yawn constantly, once every twenty seconds or so, to the point where I got chewed out at work over it…but that’s a whole other story : )

    I had no idea of its function either, so thanks for pointing it out. It makes perfect sense.

    *******
    I can’t believe it was a problem at work. Would you like me to send an anonymous note to your boss with a copy of the article? :D

    Kerrie

  2. Migraineur says:

    Hi, Kerrie,

    Poor little hot-brained lion cub!

    I read somewhere that some migraineurs can forestall an impending attack by holding an ice cube against the roof of their mouth. The article speculates that this is effective because it cools the hypothalamus. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure this was on wikipedia, so take it with a grain of salt. (I have never tried it, since I’m usually too busy fumbling with the #@%$@*!! Imitrex packaging to think of finding ice!)

    The contagious yawn bit shows, by the way, that yawning may cool the brain, but that cannot be its sole function. (Why would I yawn if your brain is hot?) I suspect that somewhere deep in evolutionary history, yawning must’ve had communication value, too. And now, even just writing about it, I can’t surpress a yawn of my own.

    ******
    Thanks for the laugh about the lion cub. And for the information that you shared. I agree that cooling the brain can’t be the only explanation. I’d never thought of it in communication terms. Having studied communication, I find that thought fascinating.

    Kerrie

  3. Racheal says:

    Hi, I am so glad that I found your blog, I am going to read through it over the next few days.
    I also yawn a lot when I have a migraine brewing, it is a sure sign for me.
    Racheal x

    ********
    Thanks for the kind words. Let me know if you have any questions.

    Kerrie

  4. Miss Vertigo says:

    “I can’t believe it was a problem at work. Would you like me to send an anonymous note to your boss with a copy of the article? :D”

    No no, it was a complete misunderstanding, and my boss was the loveliest one in the world; and from his side of the coin I can see how it would have looked as if I was completely bored and disinterested in my job. It’s certainly one of the odder, less recognised symptoms, and once I’d explained it, it was all cleared up and hunky-dory :)

    ********
    Ah, that makes sense. I’m glad it worked out — and that you have a terrific boss.

    Kerrie

  5. Flush puppy says:

    Honestly, I don’t know whether to cry or scream for joy at reading this and the rest of your blog. Never have I read before that yawning and fluid retention and sighing are symptoms. As you’ve heard countless times before, thank you so much for letting me know I’m not a freak. Going now on day three of poker-in-the-eye headache and neck ache (3rd day of taking imitrex, also a first), this has been a real comfort to me. I live in Seattle, and would appreciate names of the doctors and other folks who have been helpful in treating you. So far I’ve only tried Imitrex, which does work for a while at least. Not tried any diet things yet, but I am going to quit the booze and see what happens. :( That’s desperation for you! I need to get my life back!

  6. A. Malik says:

    Came across while searching for a reason why I “cannot yawn” even when I am feeling a strong urge for it. Is there any explanation for this?

    I do get headache when I feel an urge to yawn (open the mouth as if I was going to but cannot do it even after multiple “attempts”) … headache then picks up.

    ********
    Sorry, but I’ve never heard of that before. Sounds incredibly frustrating — I wish you luck in finding some answers.

    Take care,
    Kerrie

  7. Jozo says:

    I just want to know if there is some one that can tell me why on son many,many occasions when I had a tension head ache, for hours, then suddenly I would have, what I call a Yawning attack.
    Within 5 to 10 minutes after the yawning began the head ache would be gone.

  8. Keon says:

    I have always thought I was just a freak for yawning constantly at the start of a migraine. It is good to know that this is a common symptom. The cooling theory explains a lot. Thanks for the information.

  9. Regina says:

    I yawn a lot during certain parts of a migraine. It’s like my body just wants to shut down. Symptoms comming on are me being quiet(not as talkative) then sensitivity to sounds and then light. amoung others lately. I have had some success with taking lots of over the counter meds before the pain sets in but it only helps with some of the pain and does nothing for the confussion in my head.

  10. KayTea says:

    I get migraines 2-3 a week! One of the best alternatives to meds I’ve found is giving myself a brain freeze! I just pull over and get a slurpie or icee! I never knew why this worked but now it is making more sense having read this article. Now I just need to find a good prevetative!

  11. Marie says:

    Jozo – same here! I’m miserable for hours and then start yawning like crazy, eyes watering. Then presto! Headache is gone!

  12. Carrie says:

    Thanks for posting this I yawn and yawn and it seems like it will never end I about swallow my our face at times. My mother actually noticed that it proceeds my migraines. I am usually in denial saying it is just a sinus headache until it hits. God bless her she always says “Carrie go take the damn medicine you know it is a migraine.” You hardly ever see yawning mentioned as a symptom so thank you for letting me know this happens to you all too. May you all never have a headache again.

  13. Nicola says:

    @ Jozo & Marie – I finally Googled this today after another all dayer followed by a half hour yawning fit, then voila migraine gone! I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to link these two things together – I will now look forward to the weepy yawn :) I’m also going to try the slurpie or sucking an ice cube treatment when one starts -it would make sense if the blood vessels are enlarged during a migraine.

  14. ray dust says:

    not sure how to start but reading the above and wow other people have yawning symtoms like myself.I may be very diff in as much as have headache problems since a kid. Lost my job eventually because of too much time off and leaving the office when one came on and couldn’t stand it.Went to the Diamond headache Clinic in the late 60′s after trial and error 2 months got on inderal.been on it all these years and back then poped a med called ergomar if they got bad it worked and got down to 3 Excedrin. After all these years they started again in a much different manor of hardly any warning and a pain on left side of head down to neck that feels like an electrical shock. Yawning is there sometimes all day and after.Planing a visit to the doc to see if anything new out there to take to keep em from even starting.If you feel like discussing your headache with mine write RAYDUST@CHARTER.NET…free for just a discussion…GOOD LUCK TO ALL WHO HAVE EM

  15. Andee NEff says:

    I too yawn the day before a BAD migraine. I get lots of them but I have noticed the worst usually include a ton of yawning about a day before!

  16. anne says:

    I have noticed yawning several times in a row just a short time before a migraine attack. If I try to keep yawning as the pain in the side of my head starts to slowly intensify, it makes it go away, but only temporarily. I think I could ward off an attack if I could make my self yawn more after the pain start. Just wonder what the connection is. Seems like this connection should be investigated as a possible cause or cure.

  17. Lanie Baby says:

    Wow, I completely thought I was a weirdo for yawning like crazy before getting a migraine. Migraines are horrible for me, I have had them for going on 6 years. Sometimes I will have migraines 3 out of 7 days of the week &have had migraines that lasted a week long. I have always started yawning right before the onset of the pain &never knew why, but now I have an idea. Thanks all of you for sharing your information, now I don’t feel like I’m the only one with that happening.

  18. Missy says:

    This is very interesting. My sister just mentioned that she heard there was a link between yawning and migraine. I found this article to be interesting as well.
    http://baillement.com/jacome1.html

  19. Jannie Lay says:

    Oh guys! bless you all. I am looking at this at work after a yawning attack and I know what’s coming…I’m so going to try the slushie. I have given up on prescription meds but have found that Voltaren can take away some of the muscle stiffness that precedes a migraine attack and even (sometimes) avert the attack. Good luck to you all. :)

  20. Deb says:

    Thanks everyone, just realized today after a day of yawning and being exhausted yesterday this is yet another symptom. Started getting recurring migraines about 2 a week. I take zomig zmt and ibuprofen when the aura starts. I have about 10 minutes the I can’t see. Within the hour the headache starts but, with zomig it lessens it alot. Any ideas I would love to hear them!!

  21. Cindy says:

    Thanks for all the postings. I too have wondered why persistent yawning accompanied my severe headaches which I now know are migraines. I’ve had one all day today. Symptoms include pain on the left side of my head, in the sinus areas, behind my left eye, into my left ear and down into my neck. Yawning spells seem to ease the pain but it’s only temporary. Also massaging the back of my neck brings some relief but I can’t sit and do that all day. When the headache comes on I just want to hybernate. Asprin helps sometimes but my miracle cure is Alka Seltzer Plus Night Time Cold Medicine – the tablets that dissolve in water. My physician suggested this years ago. When I get the headache I take it right before I go to bed. I get a good night’s sleep and wake up feeling fine in the morning and the headache does not persist for days. The Day Time formula does give some relief when I can’t affor to be drowsy. Thanks to all for helping me better understand this complex and debilitating affliction.

  22. Brian says:

    One day i was suffering from a bad headach. Yes – a lot of yawning – I just couldn’t stop. I was driving down the road and my fingers started tingling. This sensation eventually paralized my entire body. I made it to the hospital thinking i was having a heartatach but it was a bad case of hyperventilating. Now when i start yawning during a headach and my fingers start tingling, I try to relax and stop yawning.

  23. Diane says:

    Oh my goodness,Ive just looked up yawning & came across your comments,I thought I was the only person who done the awful loud yawning thing!!!!!

  24. Rhonda says:

    I get the aura before and know that I have about 20 minutes to take Imitrex. I have found that a trigger for me is aspertame (the fake sugar) and it is more than just sugar free items. I check everything now (almost all gum). I yawn at the end of a migraine and thought I was the only one….thinking that maybe my brain was waking up from the fog of the migraine. Good to know that I am not the only one with this symptom.

  25. "SAM" says:

    Took me a long time to connect this to the migraines I get – but it’s absolutely constant with the migraines or just prior to getting one – and I thought I didn’t have any signs one was coming on? Now I do. Other symptoms I have (after the onset) are diarrhea and a need to frequently urinate (every 10-15 minutes) – none of these are in the “textbooks”

    *******
    Diarrhea and frequent urination are documented, though not well known, symptoms. Here are a couple other posts about little-known migraine symptoms:
    http://www.thedailyheadache.com/2005/12/other_symptoms_.html
    http://www.thedailyheadache.com/2011/04/weird-migraine-symptoms-earache-sensitive-teeth-eye-irritation.html

    Take care,
    Kerrie

  26. Anne says:

    I connected the migraines to yawning a long time ago but always thought it was hard to believe. My doctor thinks it’s “unlikely” but I know better. The diarrhea symptom I wasn’t aware of, but come to think of it… Hard to say because I usually get diarrhea a few days before my period but that’s when I get a migraine, too. I get frequent urination from Imitrex.

  27. Muffy says:

    Yawning along with watery eyes are definitely symptoms that precedes some of my headaches which I now learnt is migraine. In these instances, I would also feel nauseous and faint. The pain is quite extreme and leaves the scalp tender for one or two days. I usually have to take paracetamol and sleep it off for a day.

    • Triptans, migraine abortive drugs, may be effective for you and allow you to continue on with your day rather than having to spend the day sleeping. Triptans are most effective the earlier in a migraine attack they are taken. Since yawning and watering eyes is a clear prodrome symptom for you, you could take the triptan when you notice those symptoms, even if it’s before the head pain begins, and possibly skip the head pain completely.

  28. Muffy says:

    Anybody knows the reason why we yawn with the onset of migraine?

    • One hypothesis is that it’s a result in a dip in dopamine levels before a migraine. Another is that it’s an interaction between the vagus nerve and blood vessels.

  29. katambira ruth says:

    after yawning for hours on end yesterday,( battling a migraine for a third day) i googled yawning and the experiences i find about the connection with migraine are a kind of relief because i have been feeling really wierd with the yawns!

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