French doctor seeks to unravel mystery of the yawn

Wed Apr 28, 2010 8:31am EDT
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By Vicky Buffery

PARIS (Reuters Life!) - We do it when we're tired, when we're bored or when we're hungry; parachutists have been seen to do it before a jump, and research has even suggested a link between yawning and sexual arousal.

But the exact causes and function of yawning remain a mystery, and one that until recently was surprisingly under-documented in the scientific world.

Now a French family doctor, Olivier Walusinski, has published what is billed as the first ever textbook on the subject, "The Mystery of Yawning in Physiology and Disease" -- a collection of the latest research on this baffling and uncontrollable behavior.

The book will be followed up on June 24-25 with the First International Conference on Yawning in Paris, which will address issues such as the role of yawning as a brain-cooling mechanism and the hidden sexuality of the yawn.

"There are a number of theories, but there's no formal proof as yet of why we yawn," Walusinski told Reuters.

What is known is that the average human will yawn around 250,000 times over the course of his life, and that babies in the womb do it from as early as 12-14 weeks, suggesting it plays an important neurophysiological role.

"If a fetus weighing just 60 g (2.116 oz) can expend the amount of energy needed to yawn and stretch, then it must be absolutely vital to its development," Walusinski said.


<p>Russian soldiers train for the military parade in Moscow, April 8, 2010. REUTERS/Alexander Natruskin</p>