Yawning is an involuntary action, usually driven by boredom or drowsiness. During a yawn, a person’s mouth opens as far as possible while they inhale deeply and then slowly exhale.
As common as it is, the purpose of yawning is still undetermined. But yawning is a normal aspect of life. Humans begin yawning in the womb and usually continue yawning for the rest of their lives.
Sleepiness is the most common factor that causes yawning. Healthy yawning can also be influenced by a variety of other circumstances, like boredom, hunger, fatigue, and falling asleep or waking up from sleep.
Typically, people yawn 5 to 10 times a day. But too much yawning may be considered by health experts to be excessive. It may even be a sign of a health condition that could require medical treatment.
What Is Excessive Yawning?
It is normal for healthy people to yawn several times throughout the day, but yawning more than 30 times a day is generally considered excessive.
Alternatively, some health experts define excessive yawning as three or more yawns within a span of 15 minutes. Still others argue that any yawning that exceeds a given person’s normal, baseline frequency of yawning is excessive.
In many cases, excessive yawning is attributable to the same triggers as healthy yawning, such as feeling sleepy or lacking stimulation. But yawning in the absence of triggers like boredom or drowsiness could be due to an underlying medical concern and should be taken seriously.
If you are yawning more than 30 times a day despite getting adequate sleep, you may want to talk to a health care provider about whether your excessive yawning requires medical attention.
What Causes Excessive Yawning?
Excessive yawning can be caused by a number of conditions, some more serious than others.
- Sleep debt: Yawning more than usual is a classic symptom of excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS), which is most often caused by not sleeping enough. EDS is sleepiness that is severe enough to interfere with normal daytime functioning.
- Boredom: Lack of engagement with an activity leads people to yawn more. Activities that might not require much concentration, like driving or listening to dull speeches, are characterized by more yawning than activities that require more attention, like cooking a meal or playing a game.
- Sleep disorders: Excessive yawning can also be triggered by a sleep disorder that causes EDS, like sleep apnea or narcolepsy. People with severe sleep apnea tend to yawn more during the day, in part because they spend less time in deep sleep and have lower oxygen saturation at night.
- Neurological conditions: People with certain neurological illnesses, including multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, stroke, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and Lou Gehrig’s disease, may yawn excessively. Excessive yawning can also signal an oncoming migraine.
Other circumstances and medical conditions are also linked to excessive yawning, though more rarely.
- Fainting: Excessive yawning sometimes precedes fainting triggered by pain, shock, overheating, or the sight of blood. Reacting to upsetting events can cause a drop in heart rate and blood pressure, which results in less blood and oxygen reaching the brain and, ultimately, a fainting event.
- Heart attack and aortic bleeding: The same drop in heart rate and blood pressure that can lead to fainting can also be triggered by an impending heart attack or bleeding from the aorta. Thus yawning excessively can, in rare cases, be a sign of more serious heart problems.
- Medications: In rare cases, excessive yawning may be a side effect of certain prescription medications. These can include some antidepressants, pain relievers, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, and drugs for Parkinson’s disease or restless legs syndrome.
- Internal temperature regulation: Some people who yawn excessively have disordered regulation of their brain or body temperature. Some researchers think that yawning may help to cool the brain. Excessive yawning can also occur before, during, and after an overheating event such as heat stroke.
Symptoms of Excessive Yawning
The foremost symptom of excessive yawning is obvious: yawning a lot. However, depending on the cause of the yawning, additional symptoms related to an underlying illness may also be present.
The most common cause of excessive yawning, sleep debt, can involve additional symptoms, such as:
- Falling asleep during daytime activities
- Brain fog
- Impairment of daytime functioning
- Difficulty remaining alert
Symptoms of Neurological Disorders
Many symptoms are associated with the neurological conditions that can be linked to excessive yawning. Talk to a health care provider if any of the following symptoms occur, as they could indicate serious illness requiring medical attention:
- Loss of consciousness
- Tremors or difficulty walking
- Muscle weakness
Symptoms of Other Conditions Linked to Excessive Yawning
Since many conditions can cause excessive yawning, let your doctor know if you experience any of these symptoms along with yawning frequently:
- Severe chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Sudden weakness
- Dizziness and fainting
- High body temperature
- Fast heart rate
How to Stop Excessive Yawning
When excessive yawning can be attributed to insufficient sleep, initiating healthy sleep hygiene practices could help you to get the sleep your body needs.
If you are yawning more than 30 times a day despite getting sufficient sleep, you may wish to discuss the excessive yawning with your health care provider. Diagnosing and treating any causes and conditions may help to eliminate excessive yawning and prevent the condition from getting worse.
Diagnosing Excessive Daytime Sleepiness
EDS may be caused by underlying factors that can be diagnosed by a medical provider. First, speak with your provider about your sleep habits and any symptoms you may notice. In some cases, a doctor will be able to diagnose the cause of EDS from this information alone.
If necessary, your medical provider may order additional tests to diagnose or rule out a sleep disorder.
- Epworth sleepiness scale: This brief questionnaire helps to determine to what extent sleepiness might affect your ability to perform common daytime activities.
- In-laboratory sleep study: A polysomnography in a sleep lab can detect sleep disorders and help diagnose the cause of sleepiness. Polysomnography involves tests that measure things like brain wave activity, eye movement, and muscle contraction.
- At-home sleep study: When obstructive sleep apnea is a suspected cause of daytime sleepiness, an at-home sleep study may be appropriate to confirm a diagnosis. For an at-home test, a doctor provides some basic, easy-to-use equipment that captures things like snoring, blood oxygen level, and total sleep time.
- Multiple sleep latency test: This test measures daytime sleepiness and helps doctors diagnose sleep disorders such as narcolepsy. This test is conducted during the day, following an in-laboratory, overnight sleep test.
When a doctor suspects that a neurological illness is causing excessive yawning, they may suggest other tests to diagnose or rule out certain conditions.
- Neurological examination: This exam tests various aspects of the nervous system, including body movement, coordination, balance, vision, hearing, and reflex. The medical provider may also ask some questions to determine how oriented in time and place a person appears to be.
- Imaging tests: Brain scans like computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can help detect strokes or brain injuries.
- Laboratory tests: A small sample of fluid may be extracted from around the brain and spinal cord to look for evidence of multiple sclerosis or other neurological conditions.
- Electroencephalography: This test, also called an EEG, measures the brain’s electrical activity. It can help to detect seizure disorders as well as some sleep disorders.
Treating Excessive Yawning
Treatment for excessive yawning depends on its cause. If insufficient sleep appears to be the cause of excessive yawning, a medical provider can offer advice about lifestyle changes that may help to improve your quality and quantity of sleep.
These changes often include:
- Sticking to a sleep schedule
- Maintaining a consistent bedtime routine
- Relaxing with the help of calming activities as bedtime approaches
- Exercising during the day
- Avoiding long naps later in the day
- Creating a relaxing bedroom environment
- Exposure to natural light during the daytime
- Avoiding alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine late in the day
If your doctor detects a sleep disorder, the treatment will depend upon the condition that is diagnosed. Some treatments for common sleep disorders include continuous positive airway treatment (CPAP) for obstructive sleep apnea, light therapy for sleep-wake cycle disorders, and lifestyle changes that support healthy sleep.
If your excessive yawning is due to a neurological condition, treatment will once again depend on the specific diagnosis. Some neurological disorders are commonly treated with prescription medications or physical, occupational, or speech therapies.
If a prescription medication may be to blame, it is best to speak with your health care provider before discontinuing the use of any medication. Your doctor may be able to prescribe a comparable drug that does not cause yawning as a side effect.
Frequently Asked Questions About Excessive Yawning
No evidence suggests that excessive yawning is caused directly by a vitamin deficiency. However, some vitamin deficiencies may cause fatigue, which often involves yawning. Not getting enough vitamin B12, for example, can lead to vitamin B12-deficiency anemia, which may lead to feeling fatigued.
However, fatigue can be caused by a wide range of conditions and circumstances. If you are experiencing fatigue and excessive yawning, talk to your health care provider about whether an underlying medical issue may be causing your symptoms.
Excessive yawning is not a known symptom of COVID-19 or post-COVID conditions (long COVID). However, both a COVID-19 infection and post-COVID conditions may cause fatigue, which might lead to excessive yawning.
Probably. Very often, excessive yawning is the result of insufficient sleep. Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night to feel rested and for optimal health. If you still find yourself yawning more than 30 times a day despite getting enough sleep, talk to your health care provider about what could be causing your excessive yawning.
Perhaps. Yawning excessively has been loosely associated with anxiety and stress and less conclusively with depression. Prescription medication taken to treat anxiety and depression may also cause excessive yawning as a side effect, so it can be unclear whether the medication or the underlying condition is responsible.