“’Tis now the very witching time of night, When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out Contagion to this world”

–William Shakespeare

Yawning is very much on my mind today, as I settle in to write the last blog entry in this particular series.  I recently decreased my caffeine intake, from four large cups in the morning and several sodas or cups of coffee during the day to two large cups of coffee in the morning.  Two things inspired the change.  First, I was beginning to have a lot of difficulty falling asleep, and would often find myself awake at 4am with a morning class looming on the horizon. Since I am not a morning person, this became increasingly uncomfortable, not to mention all that yawning (sometimes in the middle of lecturing!).

Secondly, I discovered the wonders of French press coffee by whim shopping online one night when I couldn’t sleep.  Yes, the irony that I bought something to keep me awake one night when I couldn’t sleep was not lost on me. The French press I bought was a 32oz pot, which is two cups worth in my favorite coffee mug.  I can’t begin to describe how delicious French press coffee is—I can’t drink coffee any other way now.  Of course, I could just buy a bigger French press, but I figured it was good way to motivate myself to cut down.  It seems to have worked, since my sleeping patterns have normalized, and I have less trouble falling asleep when I go to bed.

The other reason yawning is on my mind today, in particular, is due to a text message from a friend who is a morning person who doesn’t realize that not everyone is awake at 7am when there are no classes in session.   So I’ve been yawning up a storm today, despite trying to keep my mouth closed and breathing through my nose (which really does work to decrease the frequency of yawning; I’ve been informally tracking that all summer in myself).

For this last entry, I want to take a look at yawning as a symptom.  Yawning is a seemingly simple behavior, though as we have learned over the last several weeks  it is a complex and little-understood behavior.  All humans, as far as we know, yawn, and we all yawn in the same, stereotypical way.  Even people who are profoundly paralyzed and can barely move a muscle still yawn (though not contagiously) as well as people who have had everything but their brainstem removed (Provine, 2005).  Interestingly, Cattaneo, Cucrachi, Chierici, and Pavesi (2006) document two patients who suffered strokes in their brainstem who developed excessive yawning as a result, further suggesting that the control of yawning is located in the brainstem and medulla.

Changes in yawning frequency are also associated with certain medications, particularly SSRIs, which are used to treat anxiety and depression.  Taskapilioglu, Akkaya, Sarandol, and Kirli (2009) documented the case of a female patient who began to yawn excessively while taking an SSRI for anxiety.  Other researchers have noted excessive yawning for patients taking SSRIs (Chen and Lu, 2009; Gutiérrez-Álvarez, 2007).  Beale and Murphree (2000) took a closer look at this side-effect in two case studies for individuals being treated for major depression using SSRI’s fluoxetine and sertraline, among other medications.  Both developed excessive yawning within 14 days of the start of treatment.  In one of the cases, the excessive yawning continued across three SSRIs and only went away when the medication was discontinued.  Yawning is such a notorious side effect of the drug Lexapro that the symptom is often referred to as The Lexapro Yawn.

Daquin, Micallef, and Blin (2001) provide a nicely detailed overview of various other pathologies that are associated with excessive yawning.  The disorders cover a broad spectrum of categories, and include neurological and psychiatric pathologies as well as physiological, infectious, and metabolic.  Lets take a look at some of the pathologies associated with central nervous system disorders.  People who suffer from migraines often experience yawning before, during, or after an attack.  Research has indicated that people who suffer from migraines may have a hyper-sensitive dopaminergic system.  We learned in an earlier blog entry that dopamine plays a role in yawning as well, with yawning often triggered in humans and animals by the administration of a dopamine agonist, such as apomorphine.  As an added bit of evidence, people who have Parkinson’s Disease tend to yawn much less frequently than normal, due in part to the dopamine deficiency that is a hallmark of the disorder.  Given that dopamine levels in the brain are also related to schizophrenia, yawning is often seen as a symptom in that disorder as well.

As I mentioned earlier, in the blog post about causes of yawning, I think neurotransmitter regulation, or at least neurotransmitter levels, is the place to look for causes.  There is a very long list of neurotransmitters associated with yawning, particularly dopamine and serotonin, and the appearance of excessive yawning as a side effect in many disorders, either as a natural part of the disorder or as a result of medication seem to support the idea.  I’ve really enjoyed reading and writing about yawning, and haven’t even really scratched the surface of the phenomenon.  I will probably update this blog on yawning research as I come across it in the future.

To close out this round of blogging, I’d like to thank my students in the Summer II 2012 session of PSY 229 Introduction to Biological Psychology at Cedar Crest College, who have been blogging on a variety of topics along with me.  It’s been fascinating to read your blogs on many levels for me.  Since this is an online class it’s hard for us to get to know each other.  Your blogs have told me a lot about who you are as people and what you find interesting about brain and behavior.  I appreciate all your hard work on this assignment, as well as your insight and research that you have all so enthusiastically shared with each other.  I hope you have found the assignment as enjoyable as I have, not only in terms of sharing your interest and knowledge, but also reading the blog posts of your fellow students.  I especially hope that some of you will continue the practice of blogging, if not necessarily about brain and behavior, at least about those things you find especially interesting as you continue your education.  Writing about something is a tremendously beneficial scholarly activity and I encourage all of you to do it regularly.  You will not regret it.


Beale, M. D., & Murphree, T. M. (2000). Excessive yawning and SSRI therapy. International Journal Of Neuropsychopharmacology, 3(3), 275-276. doi:10.1017/S1461145700001966

Cattaneo, L. L., Cucurachi, L. L., Chierici, E. E., & Pavesi, G. G. (2006). Pathological yawning as a presenting symptom of brain stem ischaemia in two patients. Journal Of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 77(1), 98-100. doi:10.1136/jnnp.2005.075267

Chen, C., & Lu, M. (2009). Venlafaxine-induced excessive yawning. Progress In Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry, 33(1), 156-157. doi:10.1016/j.pnpbp.2008.10.014

Daquin, G., Micallef, J., & Blin, O. (2001). Yawning.  Sleep Medicine Review, 5(4), 299-312. doi:10.1053/smrv.2001.0175

Gutiérrez-Álvarez, Á. M. (2007). Do your patients suffer from excessive yawning?. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 115(1), 80-82. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0447.2006.00856.x

Provine, R. R. (2005).  Yawning.  American Scientist, 93(6), 532-539 doi: 10.1511/2005.56.980.

Taskapilioglu, O. O., Akkaya, C. C., Sarandol, A. A., & Kirli, S. S. (2009). Pathological yawning in a patient with anxiety and chronic disease anaemia. Journal Of Psychopharmacology, 23(2), 211-213. doi:10.1177/0269881108089812