Author Archives: Harper Nardone

Why does winter make some people sad?

There have been some very hot days here back at Penn State. While I love warm weather, walking to class with a backpack full of books is a sweaty struggle. I constantly dream of when the sun will go down and the days will cool off. But when I say this, I’m talking about fall, not winter. I would rather deal with countless more summer days than see snow fall and thermometers drop to single digits. Not only is it because it drops my high spirits a little, but I notice it in the people around me, too. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” people will cheer, but no, not exactly for all of us. The question I’ve decided to research is, is there a reason why winter makes people sad?

Once I began my research, I found from a help guide about mental, emotional, and social health that winter sadness is a real disorder, and it’s actually called Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD). SAD appears usually during the winter months and is a type of depression that affects the daily routines, relationships, and feelings of individuals. Lawrence Robinson and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., authors of the help guide, stated that while SAD takes its toll on about 1 to 2% of the population, there’s a much less extensive version of SAD called winter blues – this form of mild depression during the season change affects around 10 to 20% of the population. Why does this happen, though? Well as summer ends, the long hot days become shorter and the sun doesn’t stay out as long, noticeably affecting people. This change apparently throws off many aspects in your body and brain. First, your Circadian rhythm is disrupted. As if college doesn’t already mess with your sleep cycle, this means that your inner clock is changed thanks to it still being dark when you wake up, leaving you more tired than usual. The lack of sunlight also causes an overproduction and underproduction of melatonin and serotonin. Melatonin is a hormone created at night when you are sleepseasonal-affective-disorder-2ing, but too much of it due to the longer nights can reduce your energy. On the other hand, less sunlight equals less serotonin, which affects mood and makes SAD a type of depression. I decided to see if I could get ahold of any studies investigating these causes.

Image source from Lawyers With Depression

The American Psychological Association discusses a study by Charmane Eastman, Ph.D., and her colleagues that supports the idea that the winter season and less sunlight have an impact on people’s moods. For four weeks, they conducted a random experiment with a placebo arm. Out of the 96 individuals, who were diagnosed with SAD, they received treatment from different intensities of bright-lights for various amounts of time (ranging from one and a half hours in the morning or evening, or technically no hours in the morning with the placebo or disabled lights). The results after three weeks showed that those who were treated with the lights, especially in the morning, had hardly any or completely no more symptoms of SAD compared to the placebo group.

So it appears that the mechanism for winter sadness can be from the reduced exposure to sunshine. Of course, chance is always a possibility in science, but Eastman’s experiment results support this hypothesis. The researchers controlled the light to prove that the depressive symptoms could be diminished. Assuming the study was done well, too, it is hard to say that third variables could have influenced the outcome since the putative causal variable was being manipulated. Outside the experiment, however, I’ve learned from both previously provided sources that women are more prone to SAD, as well as people more northern in latitude. Perhaps these factors could have persuaded the data, but hopefully not too much due to the random sample of patients. It is best to remember that the study cannot 100% prove the hypothesis, but it does provide evidence.

I can say there are several possible reasons as to why winter can make people sad, and it’s related to Seasonal Affective Disorder. If your symptoms of SAD are severe, it would be rational to try out some suggested treatments like the light therapy that was done in the study. For me, since my feelings of sadness are not too severe with the weather and daylight savings change, I can treat my winter blues with getting outside more even if it’s under the shady sun of the wintertime.




Image source from Planet Joy



Sleep Paralysis: The Phenomenon

For a few years now I have experienced sleep paralysis. Every time it happens it is usually the same thing: I feel like I am awake but I am unable to breathe, move, or speak, and I struggle to kick my leg to snap myself out of it. Once, along with this feeling of paralysis, I couldn’t tell if I felt the presence of something demonic in the room with me or if I fell back to sleep and simply dreamed about it – but it is an occurrence I am not alone in experiencing based on stories I’ve read. I have met people who have never endured sleep paralysis, even though it is something I seem to undergo very often. It makes me wonder many things, but one of the more prevalent questions I have is, is sleep paralysis associated with hallucinations?

By research from the Periodic Paralysis Association, who conducted studies to observe patients with sleep paralysis, they were able to define, find symptoms, prevention, why and when sleep paralysis occurs. For those who do not know, sleep paralysis is a moment of time when you are in between sleeping and waking, unable to move or talk. The Association supports my inquiry that the phenomenon causes hallucinations for some people. There are even three different types of these illusions, including the incubus, the intruder, and unusual bodily experiences. These findings first influenced me to find how many people suffer from hallucinations during paralysis.

According to a study by Ethan Green, he surveyed people who faced sleep paralysis and asked several questions, including what they experienced during their episodes. Almost 30% of the thirty thousand voters answered that they believed there was a demonic presence or entity – the same thing I encountered. This is due to the brain activating its flight-or-fight response when REM sleep is interrupted, increasing the body’s adrenaline and creating a hallucination that poses as a threat when you are falling asleep. This further creates the feeling that whatever you think is in the room with you is evil because while you are scared about being unable to move or breath, it is overdramatizing your perception of what is going on.

how-to-stop-sleep-paralysisImage source from World of Lucid Dreaming

Now that I’ve discovered evidence that people have hallucinations during sleep paralysis, I’m going to discuss the three types. Another survey presented by Cheyne, Rueffer, and Newby-Clark in 1999, summarized by Mental Health Daily, questioned people who had gone through sleep paralysis, creating categories under which their hallucinations fell. The first is intruder, where subjects believe they have company in the room with them, aka the demon sensation that’s been explained. While you are stuck in the in-between state, one can also hallucinate by hearing talking or strange noises. For the incubus group, it entails feeling such intense pressure upon one’s body that he or she cannot breathe and may even experience pain. A surprising characteristic, which connects to the intruder group, is that sufferers sometimes think something is trying and about to succeed in killing them. Lastly, the category found more positive than the others, is that of unusual bodily experiences. People report feeling dissociated from their bodies, as if they are flying around their rooms, for example, or feel completely peaceful during their paralysis.

sleep-paralysisImage source from Thought of Interest

First and foremost, polls and surveys are observational, so the data is reliant on the samples questioned. If there is anything I learned about surveys in my past psych and stat classes, it’s that response bias is a huge confounding variable. Research is skewed based upon how many people who experienced sleep paralysis actually responded, and also whether their answers were truthful or not. So looking at my sources, surveys are not always reliable and some of the research comes from around 1999, which isn’t terribly old but also is not the most recent information. The evidence is in favor of my question; sleep paralysis seems to correlate with hallucinations, but nothing is ever “proven” by researchers. Also, from what we’ve learned in class, there are easily other confounding variables here, and I wonder if reverse causation is possible, in that hallucinations are actually making people experience sleep paranoia. That doesn’t seem plausible, though, for the hallucinations occur once a person is already falling into or waking up from REM sleep.

From what I learned, it seems like I may go through sleep paralysis again in my lifetime, with hallucinations as a symptom from it. If you read this and you suffer from sleep paralysis occasionally like me or are experiencing extreme fear from it, I would recommend going back to the Period Paralysis Association page and reading their section on prevention. Especially as a college student, make sure you follow some of their advice – your homework probably already has you on edge, and I’m sure you don’t want to add hallucinating about demons to it.

Will drinking soda actually make my teeth fall out?

Leaving home and coming to college again always changes my routine and diet. I eat less often and drink more water – contrary to the usual Diet Cokes I had practically daily when I was back with my friends in New Jersey. We drank Diet Coke so often we felt like we were suffering from deprivation headaches when we skipped out on it. Of course, it never left my mind how my mom used to tell me all my teeth were going to fall out if I continued drinking soda. So, now I question, does drinking soft drinks ultimately lead to damage of your teeth?

In a study by the Academy of General Dentistry, published in their journal General Dentistry, they decided to test how the acidic component of common soft drinks actually impacts tooth enamel. They experimented with the different types of soda products, conclusively reporting that those containing citric or phosphoric acid – or even both – do indeed damage human teeth.

This introduces evidence that is consistent with my question. The procedure of the experiment began with placing pieces of the enamel from teeth into twenty different sodas, including Diet Coke, for two days. The largest weight loss measured from the teeth, or how much enamel was lost, was more than 5%, and regular Coca-Cola, as Kenton Ross from the Academy of General Dentistry stated, was the most acidic with a pH of 2.387 (0 is completely acidic on the pH scale). It was established from the research that colas were higher on the acidic side than other sodas, but regular Coca-Cola, Cherry Coke, and Coke went to the extent of having practically the same pH as battery acid, which is kind of disturbing. Of course, although many soft drinks appear to be unhealthy towards dental hygiene, it cannot be proven as the only accountable cause for tooth erosion.




Image source from UberTopic



Confounding variables are not ruled out for other things leading to the decay of teeth. First, there are differences among people’s habits in their environments. People eat a variety of foods and also do not drink the same amount of soda – not everyone relies on Diet Coke like my friends and I do. Based on the actual soft drink content, cases of tooth erosion vary based on how much calcium is in it and whether citric acid, found to be the worse kind, or another acid exists in the drink.

Since the study was experimental, the researchers were able to provide evidence of a correlation between soda consumption and enamel loss. However, this information may not be the most realistic in society because when people drink a beverage, they do not hold it in their mouth for two days. The same results should appear eventually, but much more slowly than the study portrayed. In class we talked about how the effects of smoking took almost twenty years to show up as lung cancer in smokers. Perhaps this could be a possibility in this situation, meaning that the evidence of damaged teeth from soda may not show up until a later age – something that would probably have to be looked at in a longitudinal study.

Therefore, it is easy to be weary of accepting this as a proven hypothesis, but it might be worth trying to decrease the amount of soda in your diet in order to save your teeth – something it looks like I will have be telling my friends. If that fails, a substitute could be root beer, which was found to contain the least amount of acid compared to the other drinks.

If anyone is interested in seeing the effects of a tooth sitting in a soft drink for just twenty-four hours on video, click here to see some concerning results.

I thought science was my calling

Hi, my name is Harper Nardone and I’m a sophomore here at Penn State. I’m from Long Valley, New Jersey and enjoy getting to call University Park my second home for months on end. I’m taking SC200 because it fulfills my requirement for a Natural Science, and I heard about it from many friends who enjoyed it and even my academic advisor. Currently, I am in the Division of Undergraduate Studies and studying classes among psychology, criminology, and anthropology. I am not exaggerating when I say I really have no idea what I want to do with my life. I know so many students say that, especially those in DUS, but it’s true and I patiently wait for the “ah ha!” moment where I realize what I want to spend the rest of my future doing. So for now, courses like this one are in my schedule to help me along the way.


Last year, when I came in as a freshman, I actually began as a possible BioChem major. I excelled in science courses in high school and enjoyed them as well. I’m not positive where this came from, though, since the occupations in my family vary from hairdresser to security guard to fashion designer, but I was really set on following through with what I was good at. Now I don’t know whether it was the nerves of my first day at college or whether science is not meant to be my calling anymore, but as soon as my first Chem class was over, I decided it just wasn’t for me. Running from the classroom, I dropped it from my schedule. That brings me to today, no longer planning to be a science major and most likely a psychology major instead.

Maybe this will still work for me, though. I was inspired with BioChem not just from getting good grades in high school, but also because I’m obsessed with shows like Law and Order: SVU, NCIS, and Criminal Minds. I wanted to be a forensic scientist like Abby Sciuto, not just because she gave off the coolest vibe ever, but because she was working in a lab to help solve crimes by analyzing evidence. I guess if that dream doesn’t come true in my future, I can end up being like my next favorite character, Spencer Reid. He is an FBI agent in Criminal Minds and the youngest person in the Behavioral Analysis Unit – and also a complete genius. Perhaps studying psychology and criminology will set me up on a path similar to his (even if it is all just from TV). To fall in love with Reid like I did, you can watch some of his goofy moments right here. Or if you’re more of a Twitter person, you should follow Matthew Gray Gubler, aka Reid, because he is quite the comedian.

Nonetheless, I think I will enjoy SC200. It sounds like it will be somewhat of a workload, but it also presents itself as one of the most intriguing classes ever. Just by reading the syllabus I’ve learned that it does not work like other college courses and hopefully that is for the better. I have never been able to actually choose exactly what I want to learn about, and it is exciting to know we will be going over things like aliens, time, and cancer. And who knows, maybe it’ll even turn my mindset back to science.