How to Stop Yawning When You’re Way Too Tired
During an important conversation or meeting, letting out a big yawn (or two or three) can make you look bored and uninterested, even when you're not. Try one of these tricks when your yawning is getting out of control.
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Breathe through your nose
Your own experience has taught you that our yawns signal when we’re tired or bored, says Robert R. Provine, PhD, neuroscientist and professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and author of Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond. As such, you don’t want your yawn to send a “you’re boring” message to a friend you’re chatting with or coworker who’s giving a speech. To stifle a yawn, you can try to inhale through your nose. “A yawn involves a long inhalation and short exhalation with gaping jaws,” explains Provine. If you seal your lips, you can’t go through the full motions of a yawn. Unfortunately, it’s only a temporary fix. You will yawn, so perhaps take a minute to excuse yourself. Don’t miss these medical reasons you’re tired all the time.
Get a little chilly. In one study in Physiology & Behavior in 2019, people who placed a 40-degree F cold pack on their neck yawned three times less frequently compared to those who wore a heating pad (115 degrees F). One theory is that yawns serve to cool the brain; chill your neck and you may decrease your noggin temp, too. But if you’re constantly chilly, these medical reasons could explain why you’re cold.
Get an audience
One thing Provine learned during his studies on yawns? Recording others stops them from yawning. “There’s a social inhibition effect. People looking at you will inhibit yawning,” he says. See if it works for you—ask a friend or two to watch you as you try to yawn or turn your iPhone camera on yourself and record the action. It’s worth a shot when you’re really trying to stop yourself from yawning.
Take your migraine meds
Here’s an interesting headache fact: nearly half of patients in a study reported experiencing repetitive yawning associated with a migraine attack, per 2018 research in Headache. For some of these patients, the yawns start up as a warning sign that head pain is to come. If you’re a migraine sufferer and you notice this pattern, it might be time to take medication to stop an attack.
Grit your teeth
Just like breathing through your nose, you can try to grit your teeth to wait out a yawn. Turns out that feeling like you’re stuck “mid-yawn” is just as unsatisfying as being “mid-sneeze.” So you’re not going to win the battle of avoiding the yawn completely, says Provine: “You can block a yawn, but the urge to do it will still be met.” Look out for these everyday things that drain your energy.
Take the stairs
If you need to revive your vigor, excuse yourself and take a flight of stairs. A 2017 study in Physiology & Behavior found that stair climbing was as effective as lower doses of caffeine for a quick energy boost. But don’t push too hard—here’s what you should avoid doing when you’re tired.
Check your medications
If you find yourself having yawning fits often, your medications could be to blame. Drugs like SSRIs and other antidepressants, antihistamines, and some pain medications can make you drowsy and encourage yawns.
- Robert R. Provine, PhD, neuroscientist and professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and author of Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond.
- Physiology & Behavior: “Manipulating neck temperature alters contagious yawning in humans.”
- Headache: “Migraine and yawning.”
- Physiology & Behavior: “Stair walking is more energizing than low dose caffeine in sleep-deprived young women.”
- Mayo Clinic: “Antidepressants: Get tips to cope with side effects.”
- Mayo Clinic: “Allergy medications: Know your options.”
- Mayo Clinic: “Chronic pain: Medication decisions.”
- Harvard Healthbeat: “Fight fatigue with fluids.”