September 30, 2023

Why do we stretch when we yawn?

What is the point behind this deceptively easy act? Why do our bodies make us extend and yawn even before were properly awake?

Et tu, leopard?! Image credits Amit Patel/ GoodFreePhotos.

I find that stretching after a long period of inactivity (specifically after sleeping) is almost an instinctual reaction for me. It feels amazing, and it leaves me refreshed. But how can a basic stretch do that? And why does my body force me to do it without even asking for my opinion? What does my body leave it?

Some light pandiculation

” Almost all vertebrates yawn,” Olivier Walusinski wrote in 2006, ” testifying the phylogenetic old origins of this habits”. He further includes that such habits can be observed in infants as young as 12 weeks, and “stays relatively the same throughout life”.

Another paper released in the journal Neuroscience & & Biobehavioral Reviews talks about the possible origins of mammalian sleeping patterns in the wakefulness, sun basking, and sleeping states of our reptilian forefathers. Its a really interesting read. In the context of what were talking about today, however, one point sticks out: the paper suggests that yawning and extending stem from post-basking risk-assessment habits.

The act of uncontrolled stretching while yawning is referred to as pandiculation in humans. The habits, nevertheless, is far from unique to us. Its been observed in several species, especially during transitions from periods of low to high activity.

While we dont know for sure, we have some quite solid hypotheses.

Not only are yawning and extending commonly seen in the animal world, theyre likewise most likely really, very ancient behaviors. We select them up early and stick with them for life. Undoubtedly they have a purpose– but what?

Stretching as a hardware reset

Throughout the day, fluid tends to collect in the legs. Extending helps to gently press these fluids back into their usual place. Its likely that this procedure is designed to avoid fluid build-ups from injuring muscles during more strenuous activity.

It also helps work out any stiffness or tightness in your muscles and joints triggered by investing an extended quantity of time in a single position. In the long term, this helps maintain a large range of mobility even if we dont take part in such activities. In the short term, pandiculation may be a fast method to carry our bodies out of REM sleeping patterns (when motor activity is prevented) and into a state of readiness, so we can react to any danger– much like reptiles after basking,

Promote me to Captain Obvious here, but sleeping is a very passive ability. Our bodies are made to move, nevertheless, and such an extended period of inactivity leaves them sleepy in a sense. Stretching is our brains method of inspecting if all muscles are still working appropriately while providing them a push that its time to get to work.

Stretching as a software application reset

Stretching also uses the brain a possibility to recalibrate its communication with muscles. As you extend, the brain sends progressively more powerful signals to your muscles.

Lastly, stretching just feels good. Its a kind of progressive relaxation that helps in reducing feelings of stress. Stretching feels good because its one of those things that satisfy our homeostatic drive: along with consuming, making love, and satisfying other physical functions, extending helps us remain healthy– so our brains reward it by making us feel great.

Pandiculation likewise helps improve blood circulation and reduce stress by jump-starting the parasympathetic nerve system ( PNS)– the branch of the nerve system that manages uncontrolled activity such as controlling heart rate, endocrine functions, or digestion. Extending jump-starts the PNS, which, in turn, revs up all those background processes that keep you awake and alert throughout the day. The degree of movement also increases your heart rate– which is slowest prior to rising– pushing blood to the muscles in the extremities.

Ok, but why do we stretch?

Animal designs recommend that pandiculation is managed by the same networks in the limbic system (the lizard brain) that deal with fundamental survival impulses. Some clients immobilized on one side of their body due to motor cortex damage will still raise both arms when they yawn– which suggests it is a function of the limbic system, instead of the motor cortex, which is triggering this behavior.

The other part of pandiculation, yawning, is likely more brain-centered. Where stretching helps bring your muscles online, yawning likely does the exact same for our pounds of gray matter. It helps cool the brain and most likely makes it more alert– we yawn when were drowsy in an effort to remain awake, and yawn when were bored in an effort to keep us on the task at hand.


This would also explain why we naturally extend when we wake up, in spite of not purposely attempting to.

When we yawn, we ingest a gulp of air that goes into contact with our oral and nasal cavities, which are straight connected to the brain through numerous blood vessels. When we stretch our jaws, we increase the blood circulation to the brain, which helps the reasonably colder air somewhat lower the temperature of our brains.

” Of 40 stroke patients going to a rehabilitation department, 32 (80%) had actually associated responses affecting the hemiplegic arm,” reports a study published in 1982 in the Scandinavian Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine. “These uncontrolled movements nearly always occurred in association with yawning and less regularly with stretching, coughing, laughing and sneezing.”

Here to remain

So extend your arms high, yawn with gusto, and enjoy that little shot of dopamine that includes pandiculation.

The act of uncontrolled stretching while yawning is referred to as pandiculation in humans. In the context of what were going over today, however, one point stands out: the paper recommends that extending and yawning stem from post-basking risk-assessment behaviors.

You probably delight in pandiculating– I cant blame you. Even if you didnt, opportunities are its here to stay. Not only is this habits likely really useful for our bodies, however its likewise engrained so deep in the animal brain that nearly all vertebrates do it.

Where extending assists bring your muscles online, yawning likely does the very same for our pounds of gray matter.

Not only are yawning and stretching extensively seen in the animal world, theyre also probably very, very ancient habits. Stretching feels great due to the fact that its one of those things that please our homeostatic drive: along with eating, having sex, and pleasing other physical functions, extending helps us remain healthy– so our brains reward it by making us feel nice.