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What Happens in the Brain to Make Us ‘Catch’ Yawns

Did you ever look at somebody who’s yawning and suddenly feel an unstoppable urge to yawn, yourself? Well, now a University of Nottingham research team has figured out what happens in the brain that makes us “catch” that yawn. According to BBC, contagious yawning has to do with the primary motor cortex in your brain, and scientists hope that learning how this cortex responds to certain stimuli will help them address diseases like Tourette’s.

Yawning starts even before you’re born, and continues throughout the rest of your life. Often associated with being tired or bored, yawning is notorious for being contagious. It may even help you bond with your dog, as dogs have been known to “catch” human yawns — although they don’t share yawns with each other. Chimpanzees, wolves and even pet birds can catch a human yawn, too.

While yawning as a form of companionship is fascinating, scientists at Princeton University have found that yawning in itself can be linked to sleep deprivation and tiredness, as well as an effort by your body to cool your brain — and thus, wake you up.

How do you know if yawning is a bad thing? If you find yourself yawning more than once a minute, this may be a symptom of an underlying medical condition that needs evaluating. Although not common, excessive yawning may also indicate a brain dysfunction such as epilepsy or multiple sclerosis, liver failure or simply a response to certain medications.

Otherwise, if you feel tired and need to yawn, consider a taking a nap or adjusting your sleep schedule. And know that, like sighing, a spontaneous yawn now and then may actually be beneficial.
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