Here Comes the Science Bit... Evanne Ní Chuilinn on Motherhood, Tiredness and Olympic Athletes
I was out on one of my many walks the other day, and a complete stranger, about 40 years my senior saw fit to tell me the time.
I was crossing the road minding my own business. She was crossing the road, NOT minding hers! “It’s only one o’clock in the day, love”. In the interest of fairness, I should add that I was mid-yawn, and probably appeared more than a little on the dishevelled side. The silver haired stranger shot me a look of disapproval, and for whatever reason, my blood boiled.
I’ve been tired before. I’ve taken to the flat of my back after a tough camogie training session. Like anyone who’s ever gone to college, I’ve pulled 'all-nighters', and suffered the consequences. I’ve come home from holidays in a worse state than when I left, and I’ve gone to 3 Irish weddings in 2 weeks – enough said!
But, it wasn’t until I got pregnant that I understood the extent of the human state that is ‘tired’. In fact, the energy zapping exhaustion I experienced last June was one of the first clues of my impending 40 week rollercoaster. I remember going to the gym on my lunchbreak, and I couldn’t put one foot in front of the other. I’d collapse into bed at 7pm and have to peel myself from a mattress, which would bear the indentation of my body, at 8am the following day. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to explore the many, many strains (forgive the pun) of tiredness we experience as first time mums. There’s the non-stop milking parlour-esque conveyor belt of fatigue that is breastfeeding. There’s the dreaded nightfeeds, which need no explanation. And there’s my own personal favourite, and more recently explored, ‘home from town at 3am, baby wakes at 5am’ type of weariness.
All that said, I know that it’s not exactly socially acceptable to yawn in public. It’s certainly rude to yawn during a conversation. It suggests that the company you’re keeping is boring you, or worse still, sending you to sleep. There’s another theory I came across though, and one that’s nicely fitting as we continue to enjoy the 30th Olympiad.
Researchers have found that Olympic athletes and paratroopers tend to yawn before they begin their trials. I think it’s fair to assume that athletes in this situation are not bored! The scientists deduced, (and who am I to argue with men and women of science), that the athletes may preparing their brains before the big effort!
A study at the University of Albany found that people whose brains were cooled with ice packs yawned less than others in yawn-inducing situations did. They concluded that yawning was a mechanism to cool and energize the brain. Apparently this explains why we stretch and yawn in the morning, before we face the challenges of the day.
Today is Tuesday, and last night I got home from a Hen weekend. When this blog goes online, I may already be pounding the pavement with my little man. I will yawn. Repeatedly. And I will not apologise. To you, my silver haired friend, let me explain… It’s very scientific you see, so please don’t be insulted or passive aggressively indignant next time we cross paths. I am not tired or bored, I am energising my brain. The scientists said so.