The Mystery of Yawning in Physiology and Disease

Editor(s): Walusinski O. (Brou) 
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Interplay between Yawning and Vigilance: A Review of the Experimental Evidence

Guggisberg A.G.a · Mathis J.b · Hess C.W.b
aDepartment of Clinical Neurosciences, University of Geneva, Geneva, and bDepartment of Neurology, Inselspital, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland Walusinski O (ed): The Mystery of Yawning in Physiology and Disease. Front Neurol Neurosci. Basel, Karger, 2010, vol 28, pp 47–54 (DOI:10.1159/000307079)


Background: Yawning is a phylogenetically old behavior of ubiquitous occurrence. The origin and function of this conspicuous phenomenon have been subject to speculation for centuries. A widely held hypothesis posits that yawning increases the arousal level during sleepiness; thus, providing a homeostatic regulation of vigilance. Methods: This chapter reviews experimental data on the relationship between yawning and vigilance that allow testing of the components and predictions of this hypothesis. Results: Behavioral studies and electroencephalographic (EEG) recordings of brain activity before and after yawning have provided consistent evidence that yawning occurs during states of low vigilance; thus, substantiating the notion that it is provoked by sleepiness. However, studies analyzing autonomic nervous activity and EEG-based indices of vigilance in yawning subjects did not find specific autonomic activations or increased arousal levels after yawning. Conclusions: The data therefore do not support an arousing effect of yawning or a role in regulationof vigilance or autonomic tone.


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