Author Archives: Maria Jean Conti

why do you feel so gross after naps?

I pretty much take a nap every single day, sometimes twice a day. When I’m don’t with class, even if it’s only noon, there’s a 99% chance I’m in my bed, ready to pass out. But nothing is worse than waking up from a deep sleep and feeling like you are half-dead. Especially in the evenings, specifically on gamedays, I’m sure a lot of people can relate to opening your eyes after a couple hours of sleep and feeling horrendous. But not matter how many times I wake up and regret the nap I just took, I will almost definitely make the same mistake the next day. How can just a few hours of sleep leave you feeling so great sometimes, and so terrible other times?

The answer to this is sleep inertia. This is when part of your body is still in its sleeping state and you are somehow unable to perform simple tasks. This usually happens when you wake up quickly. If you experience this in the morning, you probably automatically turn to your morning coffee. But when you experience this after an evening nap, its disorienting and confusing. Typically, sleep inertia lasts about 15-30 minutes after waking up, but it could actually last up to 4 hours.

Another issue that affects the level of sleep inertia that you experience is if you wake in the middle of a sleep stage. When you wake after a sleep stage, you normally feel amazing and wide-awake, but if you wake in the middle of one, your sleep efficiency is greatly reduced. When you use an alarm clock, your chances ofth sleep inertia are raised to almost 98%. This almost guarantees that you’ll feel terrible when you wake up in the morning.

This grogginess and tiredness that immediately follows a nap can be very bad for people who have things to do and only plan to lay down for “15 or 20 minutes.”
images-1 This can even cause dangers while driving or performing other important tasks. The closer you are to waking up, the greater your risk is for waking up at the wrong time and suffering the consequences of sleep inertia. There are certain alarm clocks and apps that you can buy that try to memorize your sleep schedule and wake you up at the end of a stage of sleeping.
After a nap, it is ideal to wake up in either stage 1 of sleep or tage 2 of sleep. It is not very beneficial to wake up in the middle of Slow Wave Sleep or REM sleep. Stages 1 and 2 are only the beginning stages of sleep, and your body will not have a very hard time recovering from being inactive. Stage 1 of sleep accounts for 9% of your sleep time, which is not when your alarm would normally go off to wake you up from your nap

Take-home message: Sleep Inertia isn’t usually dangerous but it feels pretty terrible. When your brain is inactive for a decent amount of time, it can only be expected that it’ll need some time to reboot. The best way to deal with this issue would be to purchase an alarm clock that wakes you slowly, or to get a phone app that regulates when you are in the right stage of sleep to wake up.


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Restless Leg Syndrome


When I was in middle-school, I had one friend who would always yell at me for moving my legs at the strangest times. Even when we would have sleepovers and I would be trying so hard to fall asleep, I literally could not stop moving my legs. This wouldn’t happen all the time, but when it did, it was beyond frustrating. I would be watching a movie and suddenly have the urge to get up and run on a treadmill just so my legs would chill. It was like a tingling in my lower legs that would only go away if I was moving them somehow.images-1

I’ve heard the term “restless leg syndrome,” but I never really thought it was an actual disorder. It’s not very serious but it is when there is an uncomfortable sensation in your legs that will only go away when you make movements. There’s really no specific test for RLS, but Doctors think it affects roughly 10% of the American population. Some scientists think that it’s caused by irregular dopamine transmissions. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, is a chemical that affects the body’s reward and motivating system. In another blog that I wrote, I said that this is the chemical that is believed to cause extroverts to be so outgoing.

Unlike some medical mysteries, scientists think they may have found a mechanism for what causes this unrestful disorder. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University evaluated a group of forty-eight participants. Twenty-eight of these participants had RLS, and twenty of them did not. Using an MRI, the levels of glutamate in each participant’s brain were measured. After measuring each patient’s sleep pattern for 2 nights, the levels of glutamate in each participant’s brain were measured again. After the 2 nights of sleep, the levels of glutamate in participants who suffered from RLS were much higher than those who did not. Like dopamine, glutamate is a neurotransmitunknownter, but glutamate stimulates the body’s brain and the central nervous system. This allows scientists to rule out some possible third variables, but not all of them. But the discovery of the correlation between RLS and glutamate could possibly only be correlation.

Take Home Message: This study was very important for the progression of understanding RLS because most studies that were previously done measured dopamine levels. This is an example of how our own intuition can block us from seeing the answers to questions we have been studying for years. Even though this isn’t a very serious issue, if it had been a more serious problem, who knows how many people would have died because scientists were studying the wrong variable

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Does room color really change your mood?

When picking out wall colors for a new house, most people try to pick colors that they believe generate a certain mood. Most doctor’s offices and waiting rooms are pale blues and yellows. Some people paint their kitchens and entertainment rooms fun bright colors to evoke happiness and liveliness. To an everyday person, these are just colors that we associate with certain moods, but to scientists, there is a reason we make these associations.

Conceptual for many use: red chair and watch in the middle of some white chairs - rendering

There is a certain pattern that psychologists recommend when picking the colors to paint each room in the house. Warm colors, like reds, rust, and tan, should go in your living room. It’s believed that these colors promote the start of conversation. Some restaurant chains, like McDonald’s, having taken advantage of red promoting eating. So it’s not surprisingly that warm colors can be recommended in the kitchen, also. In bedrooms, clam blue, lavender, and other neutrals promote calm feelings and reduce stress. Workout rooms are recommended to be a mixture of blue-green, which promote happiness. And finally, the office should be green. According to David Freeman, green is the color of focus and concentration. Green is also a color that you can be surrounded by, for long periods of time, without being distracted.

It is difficult to test the effects of colors on mood, because each person feels certain emotions differently and to different severities. One study was done using a mood questionnaire that studied the emotional effects of colors on each participant, in a closed space. The participants were brought to locations where color was supposed to evoke a certain mood, like a bright red cafeteria. With about 460 participants, 332 of them fell between the ages of 17 and 24. The results show that 26% of the participants disliked brown the most, 21% disliked orange the most, and 13% disliked gray the most. The color blue was favored by 136, the color green by 92, yellow by 83, and red by 42. There results of this study are broken down further and can be seen here.

Even though we do not know the mechanism, studies like this show that color and mood do have a strong correlation. But with so many other psychological variables, it is very difficult to draw a line in the sand where certain colors equal certain moods. For example, if someone grew up with a blue living area, blue may grow to generate communication and comfort for that person. Or if a person’s favorite building is white inside, that person might find a sense of calm in other buildings that have a white interior. There is an endless number of third-variables that can affect a person’s mood in a certain colored room. Because of the many studies that have been done, and the common view among psychologists, it is clear that there is a correlation between color and emotion, but it is still unclear what the mechanism is that causes this correlationcolor-psychology


Take-home message: When painting your house, go with what colors feel right to you. If you think warm colors are supposed to make you hungry, but they make you anxious, don’t paint your kitchen walls red and orange.  But if you’re painting the inside of a waiting room, and you know light blue evokes relaxation, it might be a good idea to paint the walls light blue.

Room colors:

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The study:

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“I’m just not outgoing”

“I’m just not very outgoing”

At such a large college campus, the students here at Penn State University encounter many different personalities each day. Whether you’re walking from class to class, getting coffee before your 8am, or really trying to crack down and finish your homework in the library, you’re bound to hear bits and pieces of some interesting conversations. Even though the topics of these conversation are probably very different, there is something very similar among them all. Almost all of the conversations that take place, besides ones in a classroom, are between a couple of friends. Unless you know the person you’re walking next to, or recognize the person you’re sitting by in the library, it’s pretty rare that you’ll strike up a conversation with just anyone you see. Seeing people who go out of their way to talk to strangers just for fun is pretty rare, especially when you’re trying to make it to your next class on time. When you meet someone who is super outgoing, able to strike up a conversation with anyone about anything, you might wonder what makes them this way. A lot of people might simply say “they’re just really outgoing.” Why are some people so comfortable with what’s familiar to them, that they have no desire to branch out? What gives these outgoing people the drive to be so open and talkative? This is the battle that separates extroverts from introverts.images-1


Extroverts are people who prefer environments where things are unfamiliar, new, and stimulating. Introverts prefer comfortable settings with less stimulation. In a college student’s day to day life, the choice of meeting new people in new environments or sticking where you’re comfortable with who you know can be simplified as making a choice between stimulating environments or non-stimulating environments. This is a very simplified idea of the difference between introverts and extroverts. Most scientists believe that the difference between these two types of people is their brain’s response to dopamine and acetylcholine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is linked to the brains pleasure center. It allows a people to feel and regulate positive feelings of happiness and reward for their actions. Extroverts’ brains produce more dopamine, causing them to feel a strong reward in unfamiliar, stimulating social situations. Acetylcholine is also a neurotransmitter, but it works in an opposite way. Acetylcholine gives the brain the feeling of pleasure when a person is in a comfortable, non-stimulating situation, where someone can focus on one task. This is the neurotransmitter that introverts respond more positively to. But this doesn’t mean that extroverts do not feel the effects of Acetylcholine or that introverts don’t feel the positive effects of Dopamine, they are just not what their brains respond most positively to.


In one study, one hundred and sixty-three students were observed. Before the study, each student took the Eyseneck personality Questionnaire. The test results showed that twenty-four students were introverts, and twenty-four were extroverts. Forty-eight of them had scores that were somewhere in-between. Each subject was individually placed in a room where they were asked to attempt to memorize images or facts, while having headphones in. It was hypothesized that introverts wouldn’t be less successful in memorizing these facts because their brains did not need more stimulation while they were already being occupied with the facts in front of them. Overall, background music increased extroverts’ ability to form tasks, while it decreased introverts’ ability to perform tasks. Further results and details of this study can be read here. This study, even though it is only testing background music, supports the belief that introverts prefer more calm and non-stimulating environments. It also supports the belief that for extroverts, more is generally better.


Now you can see when you walk around campus, when someone feels comfortable and happy walking up to a stranger to start a conversation about just anything, it is because a part of their brain is probably rewarding them for it. And when a person prefers to walk alone, thinking about their tasks for the day, part of their brain is telling them to.


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The dreaded nail biting

You sit down to take a test, feeling pretty confident. Not too nervous, not too stressed, but after you turn in the test, you look down at your fingers. Your nails, which you’ve been spending weeks growing out, are now nubs. Fingernails chomped down as low as they can go. Why does this happen every time? Is it nerves or stress? Is it just the jitters? Is it something that you mindlessly do will your brain is at work? This issue is important to me because it is something that I have struggled with for years. It’s something my mother did, my sister did, and my grandpa did. My sister and I have even gone to the extent of painting layers and layers of foul tasting nail polish on our finger that was meant to break the bad habit. Unfortunately, it didn’t really taste that terrible and our bad habit was barley broken for 24 hours, until we managed to peel the nail polish off.

This habit, something that is very present in many people’s daily lives, especially in the teenage population, is something that scientists are only beginning to seriously study. Small studies that have been performed show that roughly a quarter of the adult population in America suffers from forms of it, some more severe than others. But the ideas that people once thought triggered the development of the habit are now heavily refuted. Even with no evidence to support his theory, Sigmund Freud thought it was a result of too much breast-feeding. He believed this not only caused nail-biting, but also just a general urge to chew on things. Obviously with no scientific evidence to back up this idea, it was not heavily considered for long. Coming from a nail biter, this also wouldn’t explain why my nails suffered the worst during tests and stressful situations. In Joseph Stromberg’s article, he briefly discusses Freud’s theory, along with some of the other ideas scientists have brainstormed. Some believe it is casually linked to a form of self-harm, though not many support this idea. Researchers who study body-focused repetitive disorders refuse to link it to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder because for most nail biters, it is not a compulsive action. In Stromberg’s article he explains that most commonly accepted hypothesis is that it is a method that we use to regulate our stress, anxiety, and other heightened emotionsnail_biting_stress.

This study supports the hypothesis that nail biting is caused by certain heightened emotions. Forty-eight participants filled out a questionnaire that measured their levels of emotions, some of which included anger, guilt, and anxiety. Twenty-four of these participants previously experienced body-focused repetitive disorders, while twenty-four of them did not. All forty-eight participants were then taken through 4 events, each event was meant to cause a specific emotional reaction. The 4 emotions that were triggered, to a certain degree in each participant, were stress, relaxation, frustration, and boredom. Most of the half of the participants who initially experienced nail biting and other repetitive disorders were affected and triggered by the feelings of boredom and frustration. This supports, but does not prove, the hypothesis that nail biting is caused by stressful situations and feelings of anxiety. The study also revealed that the reactions that the participants with repetitive disorders had were very similar to the reactions and symptoms of perfectionists. Being a perfectionist is a possible third variable that could trigger similar reactions among the nail biters, and also the nail biting itself. Some holes in the experiment could be the order in which the tests were performed, and the level of effect the tests had on each participant. It is also almost impossible to tell if each participant had matching emotional reaction to each test. Perhaps while some tests were successfully able to induce boredom in most of the participants, in the other participants, it caused anxiousness.

Because the causes of nail biting are only just starting to be seriously studied, a clear mechanism has not been discovered. The causes of this habit may vary from person to person, but if an exact mechanism is discovered, the answer that connects all victims of this addictive habit may become obvious. Because of the links to perfectionism that were concluded in O’Connor’s experiment, psychologists think the habit can be reduced by therapy sessions that focus on stress control and impatience.

The image in this post came from

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Still not really sure

Hi everyone! My name is Maria and I am a freshman from right outside of Pittsburgh. I was originally only signed up for this class because it was recommended during my freshmen orientation, but I’m actually very excited for the course. Certain aspects of science have always interested me, but there was never a moment when I went “wow this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” I made it through your basic chemistry and biology classes without too much of a struggle, but these science classes were just never something I particularly looked forward to. The only exception to this would be the science class I took my senior year, astronomy. My teacher for this class was so interactive and open to new ideas that it was impossible to lose interest. When I saw that we had to post a link in our blog post, a video that this teacher shared with my class popped into my mind, immediately. You can watch it by clicking here

Currently enhanced-2659-1445978999-5major-less, I hope that within the next couple of semesters, I’m able to find something I’m very passionate about. I’m leaning towards the direction of business, but my indecisiveness stopped me from applying directly to Smeal. I’m looking forward to this class because it brings in the interesting side of science, without any pressure to memorize formulas or periodic tables.