Anxiety and Yawning: The Surprising Sign to Look Out For

anxiety yawning

We all think of yawning as a sign of being sleepy. Yes, that’s true, but sleepiness isn’t the only reason for yawning. In fact, yawning is a big sign of anxiety. If you don’t believe me, pay attention to your own behavior or the behavior of others during anxious moments. I bet you’ll see quite a bit of yawning.

Yawning is a way for the brain to cool down, which it needs to do when we’re anxious.

Let’s dig into this even more.

Why are Anxiety and Yawning Connected?

Research points to the fact that yawning serves as a way to cool the body down when other cooling systems aren’t working properly. Conditions such as anxiety are known for causing “thermoregulatory dysfunction,” in this case, overheating. 

In order to cool down, the body triggers a spell of excessive yawning.

Humans aren’t the only creatures that yawn when they’re anxious. Rats and dogs also show signs of excessive yawning when they’re stressed.

Interesting Finding Between Autism and Yawning

We all know that we yawn when we’re sleepy, bored, and now, anxious. But, what’s the deal with contagious yawning? 

Research says that contagious yawning is linked with empathy. For that reason, only humans, chimps, and maybe dogs are impacted by it.

Humans only start yawning contagiously around the age of 4, which makes sense given childhood social development.

Many people with autism struggle with empathy. Because of this, research finds that people with autism may not yawn contagiously as much as others. 

So, if your child has autism and they’re yawning, it may be for a reason other than the fact that all of the kids are yawning around them.

How to Help with Anxious Yawning

One of the best ways to help with anxious yawning is to recognize that it’s happening in the first place. Assuming that all yawning is linked to sleepiness can lead us down a very wrong path about what our kiddos are feeling.

If you notice that your child is yawning, think about what’s happening around them and whether it’s emotionally distressing.  If your kiddo has sensory issues or autism, there are many more reasons that they may be yawning than sleepiness.


Diana is a registered occupational therapist who specializes in sensory processing disorders and autism.

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