News & Research

Yawning Because Your Brain Needs Oxygen? Think Again

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.

48 thoughts on “Yawning Because Your Brain Needs Oxygen? Think Again”

  1. 33 yo, I found this page because I had the awareness that my body is contracting itself into a tension which prepares for a yawn, which then I found from this search is common in creating the environment for migraine.

    2 years ago i head an exercising injury which caused an internal fireball to be created in my legs (as I was holding a position) and then after a small jolt I made in my neck the fireball went from my legs and whacked me in the head. Therein began nauseated headaches.

    I started doing kundalini yoga which if you haven’t tried, requires a move called mulaband, which entails you doing essentially a pelvic floor and squeezing your navel thus squeezing the kundalini juices up toward the head. The aim is to increase the strength of the aura, and create bliss, you can also start having interesting perceptions like psychokinesis and telepathy etc. I believe now with some work stress I have got my body stuck doing these contractions while I sleep, I’m making unecesaary contractions which I am sure are the precursor to the migraines.

    Every time I feel my body tensing up i allow it to relax. And i return whoever I bought this from to the sender (I have an inkling who I’ve bought this from).

  2. Thanks, everyone, for your valuable contributions.

    My migraine with neon rainbow aura (global aphasia, in fact) began 3 years ago.
    Today was 2nd episode — occurred without aphasia. Suspected trigger: aspartame (have not been consuming this ingredient for months. Had one diet cola today.)
    Pre-migraine symptoms:
    1) exaggerated sense of smell (keep looking for something burning).
    2) vision truncated on left ( the word Coca-Cola would look like “a-Cola”.
    3) pretty exaggerated startle reflex at noises.
    Post-migraine symptoms:
    1) Yawning incessantly
    2) Eye/Head pain subside
    Medications: None
    Treatment: Ice at base of skull / side of neck

  3. Hello, I am 54 years old female. I have always yawn with NO headache history! In the past 7-8 years, my yawning has advanced and perhaps I yawn 50-100 times a day, very annoying. I have NOT suffered from migraine. Thank god! However, I do sometimes get the interrupted yawning where the yawn cannot complete its cycle and you feel frustrated and feel as you cannot breath easily. I eat healthy, don’t smoke or drink, and exercise at least 3 days a week. Every year I do complete blood and urine test and all my tests are negative meaning everything is normal. Every time my doctor suspect my thyroid function and all those related tests are normal. I am glad my tests are normal. However, I am puzzled on what is going on. To summarize:

    2-50-100 yawns a day
    4- NO headache or migraine
    5- no smoking, drinking and any health issues
    6- I yawn even when I am on the treadmill or biking
    7- The only time I don not yawn is when I am giving speech and when I talk.

    1. Hi..I have exactly the same ..i do yawn 100 times a day..sometimes 80 …whichnis rare…i went thru test..pulmonary function test revealed PROBABLY asthma induced exercise….ABG normal..stress test.CPX test .chest cats can..blood test to rule out clots and abdominal sonogram..last one ..brain MRI.and echocardiogram..i did schedule a second opinion with pulmonologist..still yawning since february…all did start after having bronchitis…is very annoying…neurologist wanted to prescribe Inderal to stop

    2. Hi..I have exactly the same ..i do yawn 100 times a day..sometimes 80 …whichnis rare…i went thru test..pulmonary function test revealed PROBABLY asthma induced exercise….ABG normal..stress test.CPX test .chest cat scan..blood test to rule out clots and abdominal sonogram..last one ..brain MRI.and echocardiogram..i did schedule a second opinion with pulmonologist..still yawning since february…all did start after having bronchitis…is very annoying…neurologist wanted to prescribe Inderal to stop yawning.. but side effects is worse..i do not even try…

  4. Here is my story in dot points
    1. I am 50
    2. Headaches for last 4 1/2 years
    3. I get one every 6-8 days
    4. From first sign or sensation to totally gone lasts 24 hours
    5. They come very slowly and after about 6 – 8 hours for about 4 hours at about 8/10 then dissolve like how they came
    6. I notice slight mood change then the yawning then more intense yawning with watery eyes
    7. Yes the brain freeze does knock it out temporarily but it will return to continue the cycle
    8. Yes seen everyone. I am health freak (no smoking, no coffee, no alcohol and I am a vegetarian who eats organic food) so tried no western medicine drugs not even a headache tablet.
    9. Have seen to Neurologists waste of $400 each time
    10. I meditate daily and even went on 28 day silent meditation retreat and had 3 headaches
    11. Biggest gap over the 4 1/2 years was 19 days
    12. 90% have been 6-8 days apart
    13. The last 3 weeks they have been every Wednesday like clockwork. It is amazing

    I feel for you all. I am lucky because when I am struggling with it I know it will pass and I will be headache free for the next 6 days. I am so lucky compared

  5. Holy smokes!!! This page has been so interesting. I’m 53 & I have suffered from migraines since I was 5 yrs old. I’ve done just about everything they throw at me trying to understand this & find some peace in my life. I can honestly say, I understand why some could take a gun & pull the trigger!!! (No, I’m not suicidal….I just get it!!!) I have suffered w so much pain & have gone to the ER a few times, but not nearly as often as I should have….we all suffer in silence, I believe & I think we have to be some of the strongest people alive! I just started putting the yawning and migraine together…’s a very intense yarn & I can do it every 15 seconds for about 1/2 hr..,,not that this changes the impending migraine, but any pattern you see, helps!
    As far as the frequent urinating before/during/after a migraine, my neurologist in that past told me that the area where a migraine strikes and the brain telling you that you have to go to the bathroom is in the same part of the brain….πŸ˜‰
    After the migraine itself, the next painful part of this HA issue (for me) is the tension in the neck/forehead/eyes/temples…..has anyone had any luck w a med or any remedy that helps??? I would love to work on that, but when I don’t have a migraine, I’m just happy I don’t have a migraine and have learned to live w/ it….but I want a better quality life
    Happy I found this page, Diana~

  6. I feel justified! I have mentioned this aura of excessive yawning before my migraines hit to several doctors and their response ” I have never heard of that. Sounds likes coincidence “. I knew it wasn’t!
    I have suffered with my migraines for over 25 years and this and a unusually very high sense of smell are the auras that alert me to an oncoming migraine.
    Thank you,

  7. When I am having a headache on back side , continuous yawning is coming and i am unable to concentrate on any other work. Please suggest

  8. All these comments are really insightful. I’m curious though, I’ve had a severe headache for the last 36hrs now. I yawned a lot at the onset (along with watery eyes) and knew it was related but just thought it was my body wanting to shutdown/sleep in order to recover quicker. The thing is, I’ve slept so much over the last 36hrs. I’d say at least 22! and yet, here I am, back at work on a Monday yawning like I haven’t slept in days. I’m sure my colleague thinks I’m hungover! So my question is, does this yawning 26hrs into it mean I’m going to get another migraine or is it about to miraculously disappear…? I’ve just dropped two Voltarens which won’t help me monitor this but I had to do something. I’ll keep you posted.

    1. Great News – the onslaught of yawning this morning was an indicator that the migraine was subsiding. An hour later I was about 85% back to normal. Yay! So my personal experience is that I yawn both at the start (when pain is present) and nearing the end. That’s the good and the bad news I guess!

  9. I have the aurora, then the yawning with the watering eyes and then the headache. I have found that an ice pack on my neck and on the left side of my head helps. It makes sense since someone on here said it happens because the brain is hot.

  10. Ive been suffering yawning half of my life and im
    45 now. Sometime I get headaches, most of the time just aggressive yawning with pain in my mid and upper back just where my spine is and spine of my neck. And now where my heart is im suffering some pain. I went through sleep test taking imtrex and still no relief. My DR. dont it seriously! Im diabetic and trying to sell me all this why im having this but im still suffering the yawn. What they forget is I been having this problem before sleep apnea and headaches , diabetes. So I ask any idea ? Thanks for your website.

    1. Hi Mike,

      Yawning can be a premonitory migraine symptom — one that comes on before the pain hits. If a headache usually follows the yawning, you may want to talk to your doctor about other migraine abortives. Imitrex is only one of seven different triptans, but there are also other types of drugs (DHE, Migranal, Midrin) that are useful for acute migraine treatment. That’s my best guess at what’s going on. I hope it’s of some help.

      Take care,

  11. 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!

    1. 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.

  12. 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.

    1. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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:

    Take care,

  15. 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.

  16. 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!!!!!

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

    1. Hi Cindy,
      I know this is an old post I am responding too but do hope you are still reading them and searching for a cure. Your post is exactly my current life. Uncontrollable yawning with heat from chest area up out of neck area, then having to urinate and possible diahrea, sleepiness, pain on left side of face and eye running up over head and down left back of head down neck. I always end up throwing up which starts to help with nausea but of course makes my head throb. I rely on alkoseltzer plus cold tablets and so far this is the only possible help I found. Friends make me feel a bit odd knowing I use it as my miracle medicine but it us the only help I can find. Please contact me if over these years you have found any solution.

  19. 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!!

  20. 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. πŸ™‚

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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!

  24. 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

  25. @ 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 πŸ™‚ 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.

  26. 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.

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

  28. 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!

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. 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,

  33. 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. πŸ™ That’s desperation for you! I need to get my life back!

  34. “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 πŸ™‚

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


  35. 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.


  36. 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.


  37. 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? πŸ˜€


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