Yawning to stay awake?

When a work colleague starts yawning, you either think that the person is bored, or that he or she really needs to take a nap! Well, you will be very surprised to learn how the results of a new study conducted by psychologists of the University of Albany, in the United States, directly contradicts this train of thought. In fact, they discovered that yawning is actually a physiological mechanism designed to help us stay awake!

When a work colleague starts yawning, you either think that the person is bored, or that he or she really needs to take a nap! Well, you will be very surprised to learn how the results of a new study conducted by psychologists of the University of Albany, in the United States, directly contradicts this train of thought. In fact, they discovered that yawning is actually a physiological mechanism designed to help us stay awake!

According to these psychologists, the popular notion that people yawn when their brain needs more oxygen is erroneous. To verify if the brain did in fact need more oxygen, they proceeded to raise and lower oxygen and carbon monoxide levels in the blood of the 44 volunteer students. But unfortunately, the results were inconclusive.

Instead, their study demonstrated that the intake of air when we yawn helps “cool” the brain, to make it more alert. To confirm this hypothesis, researchers made volunteers watch a video that showed people yawning. While watching the film, some subjects were asked to breathe through their nose, while others were asked to hold a cool pack to their forehead. These two strategies were devised as a way to cool the blood flowing to the brain. These strategies were actually quite efficient, as the subjects did not yawn at all while watching the video. Furthermore, other volunteers were asked to hold a warm or room temperature pack to their forehead. This group actually yawned repeatedly while watching the film.

According to the authors of the study, because yawning occurs when brain temperature increases, the intake of cool blood it instigates helps maintain optimal levels of mental efficiency. In other words: yawning serves as a cooling mechanism that allows cool air to lower the temperature of the blood going to the brain. This cooling down process actually allows the brain to stay more alert.

So do not get insulted the next time someone yawns during your presentation. It is actually a compliment!

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