TIME Research

5 Tricks for the Best Nap Ever

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When it's noon, it's naptime

Naps used to get a bad rap, conjuring up all sorts of unfortunate—and unfair—images of slackers, rambunctious kindergarteners in need of time outs, and AARP members looking to rest their weary bones.

Not anymore. A 2013 Gallup Poll revealed that 40% of Americans get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep a night; what’s more 43% admitted they’d feel better if they got more sleep. So it makes sense that we’d try to catch some extra zzz’s whenever (and sometimes wherever) we can.

And more and more people are doing just that. Companies like Google, Ben & Jerry’s and Proctor and Gamble encourage employees to take nap breaks. The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor is one of several colleges to set up rooms for napping. (Located in the school’s library, UM’s nap station is equipped with vinyl cots, disposable pillowcases, and a 30-minute time limit.) And Barclays PLC, a global financial group, got some unwanted publicity last year, when the Wall Street Journal revealed that exhausted interns were slipping into stalls to take “toilet naps,” using their phones as an alarm. And then there’s Google Naps, a parody of Google Maps, which can tell you the best places in your city to catch a few winks—from libraries to park benches.

HEALTH.COM: Best and Worst Foods for Sleep

Before you Type A’s get all judgy, know this: Feeling sleepy before bedtime is completely normal. Our body’s internal biological clock (otherwise known as circadian rhythm), which regulates our physical, mental, and emotional changes 24/7, also controls our wakefulness. According to research from Harvard Medical School, we usually feel alert during the day then gradually become sleepy as we move toward evening. But some of us experience a bout of mid-afternoon drowsiness, and a quick snooze can be just the ticket for handling that fuzzy feeling.

What’s more, studies show that there is a virtual laundry list of benefits to be had from nabbing some shut-eye (hey, they don’t call it a power nap for nothing). Among them: A nap can boost brain power, make you more alert, and improve your memory. Oh, it can also help your waistline: lack of sleep can trigger hunger and could lead to overeating.

And now that the weather’s turned ridiculously cold (in the some parts of the country, anyway), can you think of a better time to indulge in a little cozy midday shut-eye? Here’s how to get the most from hibernating:

Find the middle ground

As with many things in life, timing is everything. “Basically, the best time for a nap is as close to the middle of the day as possible,” says Michael Grandner, PhD, psychiatry instructor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. “Before lunch is too early,” says Grander. “Lie down too late in the day and it will interfere with your nighttime sleep. Now it’s getting darker earlier and daylight has shifted, so probably not before noon and not after 3:00.”

HEALTH.COM: 7 Bedtime Behaviors That Will Help You Sleep

Keep it brief

Telling yourself, “I’ll lay down for however long I sleep” is not a great idea. You need figure out a set length of time for your nap and set the alarm. Ideally, a power nap should be 20 to 30 minutes. “You can go to 60 minutes, though once you go beyond 30 minutes, you get diminishing returns as far as improving brain function and reaping other benefits from your nap,” says Grandner. Plus, he says, if you extend your nap past 60 minutes, you’ll enter into a deeper (or slow-wave) stage of sleep and might wake up feeling groggy—which could affect how the rest of your day goes.

Sack out on the sofa

Your bed signals to your body that you’re nodding off for the night and can put you in a nighttime sleep mode. What you’re looking for, says Grandner, is a place that’s comfy, but not too comfy. The couch is your friend.

HEALTH.COM: 11 Surprising Health Benefits of Sleep

Keep it quiet

Be protective of your sleep space, says Grandner. You’re looking for a place that’s as quiet as possible (consider a white noise machine or ear plugs to drown out any noise). It should be dark enough to close your eyes, but not pitch dark. “You don’t want to confuse your brain into thinking you’re retiring for the night,” says Grandner. The temperature shouldn’t be too hot or cold—slightly cool is ideal for maximum comfort. (If you’re too hot or too cold, your body has to regulate its temperature, which might make it hard to relax.)

Coordinate the caffeine

It might seem counter-intuitive, but a 2003 Japanese study found that downing a cup of Joe right before settling down can contribute to a restful nap. Here’s why: Caffeine doesn’t kick in until about 20 to 30 minutes after it’s ingested. So you’ll wake up just as the coffee is taking effect—and feel wonderfully refreshed.

Simply resting can help, too

Looking for a doze at work? Grandner assures that rest, even without sleep, can be beneficial. Just relax, close your eyes, take deep breaths, and you’ll perk back up in 20 to 30 minutes. In fact, we may have found just the thing to help you wind down during your 9-to-5: Meet the Nutshell sleep pod, a wearable sack of blissful solitude, designed by a resourceful student at the New York School of Visual Arts. It’s just a prototype right now, but fingers crossed. (Hey, it beats hanging out in a restroom stall, right?)

HEALTH.COM: 7 Tips for the Best Sleep Ever

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

4 Health Benefits of Being Generous

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Giving may give you a longer life

Forget about all the sweet deals you scored on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Today’s the day to put your shopping exploits aside and embrace something a little more warm and fuzzy: generosity.

It’s officially #GivingTuesday, a global day reserved for people to get out and do something nice for others. While some towns might have a specific campaign planned, you can get in on the action yourself just by donating to charity or volunteering at your local shelter. No act of kindness is too small.

It doesn’t hurt either that giving to others can be a big boost for your health. Read on for four awesome perks of being more generous:

It may lower blood pressure

Helping out friends and family could be one way to boost your cardiovascular health this holiday season. A 2006 study in the International Journal of Psychophysiology found that participants who gave social support to people within their network had lower overall blood pressure and arterial pressure than those who didn’t. Not to mention those in the study who were more likely to give to others also reported they received greater social support in return. Why not bring a homemade meal to a friend who’s caring for someone else this holiday season? Not only will you feel good on the inside, but your friend might just be inclined to return the favor.

HEALTH.COM: How Friends Make You Healthier

It can help reduce stress

Hoarding money like Scrooge may be good for your wallet, but it’s not so great for your health. A recent study from Queensland University of Technology published in PLOS One found that stingy behavior increases stress. Researchers asked 156 volunteers to play a bargaining game and decide how to divide a sum of money. Using heart rate monitors, they found players who made low offers (below 40% of the total) experienced increased heart rate and stress levels compared to those who made high offers. More proof to consider giving away some money to those less fortunate over the holidays: A study in the Journal of Health Psychology found that people who decided not to donate money to their partner in a bargaining game to felt more shame and had higher levels of stress hormone cortisol afterwards.

HEALTH.COM: 20 Habits That Make Holiday Stress Worse

It could help you live longer

Lending a hand for small tasks may end up boosting your longevity. In a 2013 study of 846 people published in the American Journal of Public Health, people who helped others by running errands or doing chores seemed to be protected from the negative impact of stress. While stressful events were not linked to a higher risk of death for those do-gooders, people who didn’t help others did have a 30% higher risk of dying during the study if they reported having a stressful life event. If a member of your family always cooks the holiday dinner, it might not be a bad idea to pitch in this year with the meal.

HEALTH.COM: 16 Unexpected Ways to Add Years to Your Life

It can boost your mood

Research shows that giving money away can feel just as good as receiving it. For a 2007 study in Science, researchers used brain imaging technology on 19 women to see how certain regions were activated when they either kept $100 or gave it to a local food bank. Turns out the same pleasure-related centers in the brain that lit up in those who took the money also went off in those who donated the money—even more so when the decision was voluntary and not required by researchers. Whether you drop some change into a Salvation Army bucket or send a larger sum to your favorite charity, you can’t go wrong this holiday season with a little giving.

HEALTH.COM: 14 Strategies to Become a Happier Person

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Research

Obama Signs Law for Better Sunscreen

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Obama has signed the Sunscreen Innovation Act into law

Coming up next summer: Better sunscreen.

President Obama quietly signed the bipartisan Sunscreen Innovation Act into law on Nov. 29. The legislation is meant to clear the backlog of sunscreen ingredients pending U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) action—some for over a decade.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in the U.S., which is why members of Congress and the House Appropriations Committee have chastised the FDA for taking so long on sunscreen ingredients, especially ingredients already widely used in Europe and Asia.

The last approval for widespread use of a sunscreen ingredient was in 1990. But since 2002, there have been eight ingredients submitted to the FDA that are still awaiting the agency’s review. Many of these ingredients haven’t received any FDA attention for years, not even negative feedback. The new law will force the FDA to make timely decisions on each of the pending ingredients within a specific timeframe. Some decisions are expected to be made within six months. New ingredients added since the law is enacted must be responded to within a year.

Several of the pending ingredients provide better protection for UVA rays. Hopefully by this coming summer, sunscreens may be even more up to date.

MORE: New, Better Sunscreens Could Be Coming

TIME Research

These Mammals Are Hit Hard By Climate Change

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Research suggests that smaller mammals may weather climate change better than bigger ones

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December’s here and snowshoe hares are putting on their white winter coats as they’ve done for countless generations. But because climate change is transforming their environment much faster than evolution can react to it, the species is increasingly out-of-sync with its landscape: As snows arrive later and melt earlier, the hares, whose coloration change is thought to be triggered by the changing length of days, not the actual temperature and precipitation around them, are turning white when their surroundings are still brown, and stand out like beacons for predators. By 2100, the discrepancy between the hares’ coat change and the timing of snow and melt could be off by as much as eight weeks, according to research by two North Carolina State University biologists.

Predators are being negatively affected as well. Wolverines need snow to make their dens, and “there is no evidence that wolverines will be able to persist in areas that lose their snow as a consequence of climate change,” researchers wrote in a paper for the U.S. Forest Service. Wolves are struggling in places like Isle Royale National Park, where a streak of unusually hot summers has caused a decline in moose, their primary prey. Declines in wolves can impact other species, too: Wolves and other apex predators have been shown to buffer against climate-related famines for scavengers like bald eagles—in milder winters, animals like elk are less likely to die of natural causes, so the leftovers from wolf kills provide a crucial source of carrion.

Bats are feeling the heat as well, quite literally, and droughts could spell disaster for many species. “Bats in arid places need freshwater to drink, especially when lactating,” says Winifred Frick, a bat researcher at the University of California Santa Cruz. As the climate changes, bat habitats that get warmer and drier will increasingly become uninhabitable. Heat waves have already caused mass die-offs among flying foxes in Australia.

Changing climates can also affect bats’ echolocation abilities. The temperature, humidity, and pressure of the air all affect how a bat’s ultrasonic screech travels, and according to one model developed by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, bats living in more temperate zones at present will get less efficient at finding prey—more precisely, the volume of space they can detect prey in will shrink—while tropical bats will actually benefit and be able to cast a wider sonic net.

With widely distributed and varied mammal groups like bats, it’s hard to say whether or not climate change will spell doom for every single species in the group. Some may adapt to their altered habitats, some may migrate, and some may perish. In general, though, research suggests that smaller mammals may weather climate change better than bigger ones. A recent meta-analysis led by University of Colorado Boulder professor Christy McCain that examined 140 research projects on North American mammals found that body size is by far the best characteristic to predict how an animal responds to climate change. Bigger animals like foxes, reindeer, and bighorn sheep are in danger, but rodents may prove much more resilient.

“There may be certain traits like body size and activity behaviors that allow some smaller mammals to expand the range of temperature and humidity available to them,” McCain said in a statement. “These areas and conditions are not available to bigger mammals that live above the vegetation and experience only ambient temperatures.” This appears on the surface to be in line with what the fossil record has shown at major extinction events—some populations of small mammals survive, even as larger creatures die in droves.

This article originally appeared on World Science Festival.

TIME Research

5 Tricks to Stop Procrastinating for Good

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How to conquer your inner 6-year-old

I meant to write this piece two weeks ago. I created a Word document and fully intended to start banging away on my Mac. But I had to contact some experts for advice, and that can be time-consuming, so I decided it might be better to push the story to the side for a day, and tackle something a little easier. The next day, unfortunately, I kind of had a brain freeze—that happens sometimes—so I figured I’d put it off for another day, when I had a little more mojo. Thing was, I wasn’t all that inspired the following day either. And then my allergies kicked in, I popped a Benadryl, and…well you get the picture, right?

So here it is, a week and change later, and I’m finally rolling up my sleeves to work on this story about—wait for it—procrastination.

Embarrassed? You betcha. But while I may not be proud of my “there’s always later” mentality, I’m hardly alone here. In fact, research shows that that as many as 20% of us are chronic procrastinators.

You know who you are: Visa bills fall by the wayside. Income tax returns get to Uncle Sam a couple weeks late. And let’s not even get into Christmas Eve crunch-time shopping (wonder if CVS is going bring back that cute chocolate fondue fountain this year?).

But before you start getting all guilt-trippy, know this: Procrastination isn’t about slacking off or lacking the intention to work; it’s not a time-management problem, either. More to the point, it’s about self-regulation, or the lack thereof. “It’s that six-year-old inside each of us saying, I don’t want to! I don’t feel like it!” says Timothy Pychyl, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, and the author of Solving the Procrastination Puzzle ($9, amazon.com).

You see, we fully intend to get to the matter at hand, only…later. For this reason, as strange as it may seem, many procrastinators tend to be highly impulsive. Or as Pychl puts it: “The pleasure of now trumps all the future stuff. We discount future rewards for sooner rewards—even if they’re not aligned with our goals.”

The irony here, according to Dan Gustavson, a researcher of cognitive psychology and behavioral genetics at University of Colorado, Boulder, is that procrastination rarely makes us all that happy. “There’s a feeling of growing pressure because you’re only delaying the inevitable,” says Gustavson. “You understand that putting off the task is only going to hurt you in the long run. But you do it anyway.”

Of course, not all procrastinating is about giving in to temptation. Some procrastinators are actually perfectionists. Basically, these are people who are so worried about living up to the standards of others that they freeze in their tracks—say, tweaking and re-tweaking term papers. Or, as Pychyl puts it: “You address your fear of putting yourself on the line by delaying your actions.”

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But while dancing around deadlines may not seem all that serious, putting things off over time can have serious repercussions that far go beyond ticking off your boss or college professor. Let’s face it: shelving a string of exercise classes or delaying an appointment with your MD or dentist can have serous consequences for your health. “Simply put,” says Pychyl, “the sooner you take care of a health problem, the better the outcome tends to be.” And the stress that procrastination creates isn’t all that great for your health either.

Message received. But how do you break free from the “I’ll deal with it later” habit? Check out these stay-with-it strategies.

Do away with distractions

In a world of iPhones, Kindles, and other kinds of techie temptations, distractions have multiplied—not surprising, since everything is just a quick click away. You might tell yourself, It’ll take only a minute to check these messages, but 10 minutes later, you’re still at it. What’s more, many of us secretly welcome interruptions (whether they’re of the tech or human kind) because they take us away from whatever it is we’re working on.

HEALTH.COM: 12 Reasons to Stop Multitasking Now

But check this out: A study done at the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, found that the average worker is interrupted every three minutes—that’s almost 20 times per hour. Even worse, research shows that you don’t immediately return to what you were doing before you were interrupted; it takes about 23 minutes to get back on track. So before digging into any task or assignment, try closing yourself off from anything that can possibly divert your attention. Turn off your phone, and stow away that candy jar on your desk that just encourages chatty co-workers to stop by and shoot the breeze.

Say “hi” to Future You

Usually we don’t feel all that bummed about temporarily blowing off an assignment because we trick ourselves into thinking that we’ll be more in the mood (and feel more inspired) later—which, let’s face it, is pretty wishful thinking. So maybe it’s time you became acquainted with your “future self” (you know, the one who is going to be seriously stressed out tomorrow, when she has to deal with all that work with a rapidly approaching deadline). “Most of the time, we think of our future self as a stranger, someone we’re not all that connected with. But it’s important to acknowledge how your present self affects your future self,” says Pychyl. “Take a few seconds to really think about how much better you’ll feel in the days and weeks ahead if you roll up your sleeves now.”

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Get specific

Broad, general goals—like, I’m going to hit the gym tomorrow, for sure—don’t mean a whole lot. Being more precise (as in, I’m going to set aside 45 minutes at 7:30 to hit the gym) makes it easier to stay on track, says Gustavson. Another trick: Make it damn near impossible to ignore the task at hand. “If you want to exercise when you get home from work,” says Pychl, “make sure your workout clothes are near the door, so you can practically trip over them when you come home.”

Just do it

Intimidated by a big task? Try this trick: Just tell yourself, You know, I’ll just work on it for five minutes, then stop. Funny thing is, once you actually dig in, you’ll most likely realize it’s not all that difficult or stressful as you thought—and keep right on going. Or as Pychyl puts it: “Just spin the pedals and remind yourself that you can get off the bike at any time. Before you know it, you’ll be deep into whatever it is you’ve been dreading.” Another trick: Separate your goal into manageable chunks to be done throughout the day or week. “After all,” says Gustovson, “a complex task isn’t just one thing—it’s a lot of little things.”

Hit the ground running

If you’ve got a task you just dread, do it in the a.m., says Pychyl: “Mark Twain once had a great line: If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. What that means: Most difficult tasks take willpower, and willpower is a limited resource that is quickly exhausted—a muscle that can tire easily. So the trick is to engage that muscle when it’s still fresh.”

HEALTH.COM: 16 Unexpected Ways to Add Years to Your Life

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

5 Meditation Tips for People Who Can’t Focus

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Just a few minutes can shift your mindset for the whole day

Meditation is more than just a stress buster. New research shows it can help boost creativity; another review found it could reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and it could even improve decision making, in addition to a host of other health benefits.

But how can you embark on a serene course of meditation when you can barely quiet your multitasking brain long enough to finish tasks at home or at work? Here, five tips from meditation guru Amit Sood, MD, professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic and author of The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living.

Pick an activity that works for you

One assumption novices make is that you have to sit in a corner chanting “ommm” for meditation to work. But that’s a fallacy, says Dr. Sood. You can incorporate it into everyday activities, like your workout. If you’re running, for example, instead of listening to your iPod, silently repeat “peace” every time your foot strikes the ground. After a few minutes, you’ll find you’re chanting the word automatically and have entered a contemplative state.

HEALTH.COM: 16 Unexpected Ways to Add Years to Your Life

Grab a moment of gratitude

An easy way to get in a quick meditative moment is to sit down and take two minutes (yes, you can set your cell phone timer!) to think about five people in your life you’re grateful for. Start with the first one, and quickly run down the many ways this person has helped you. Now move to the second one, and imagine looking deep into their eyes. The third one, visualize giving them a quick, firm hug. By evoking images of folks who care about you, you’re releasing positive energy that will stay with you the rest of the day.

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Start small

Most people only meditate for 3 to 5 minutes when they first start the habit, according to data collected by the folks behind the goal-tracking app Lift. Dr. Sood suggests this simple exercise: Sit quietly and as you breathe in, imagine your brain filling with light. Exhale. Breathe in again, imagining your heart filling with light, then exhale. Repeat (rotating between brain and heart) for two to three minutes.

Wish others well

When you walk around the office, silently send each co-worker you see a wish. It can be specific—“I wish you well in your meeting with the boss this morning” or it can be general “I wish you health and happiness and general well-being.” Do it for everyone, even people you’re indifferent about or dislike: “It removes any sense of hostility or competitiveness you might feel towards others and replaces it with positivity, which is energizing,” says Dr. Sood.

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Turn to an app

If you don’t find any of these techniques helpful—or you crave more—there are plenty of apps out there to keep you meditating in the moment. (Sixty-two percent of people who meditate more than three days a week use a meditation app, according to Lift.) A few to try: Mayo Clinic Meditation ($2.99), Stop Breathe & Think (free), and Mental Workout (free). Or try one of the free guided meditations suggested by Lift.

The good news is if you stick with it, it’s likely to become automatic: people who meditated for 11 days were more than 90% likely to continue to a 12th day, according to the Lift survey.

HEALTH.COM: 10 Ways to Improve Your Relationship Instantly

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Research

The Weird Reason Happy Things Make You Cry

No need to be embarrassed the next time you get all worked up

Think back to the one of the happiest moments of your life, say a wedding day or the birth of a child. During these life-changing moments, it’s safe to say you were probably crying. It may feel silly when it happens—especially if you’re someone who often turns into a blubbering mess over a heartwarming viral video. But it turns out crying when you’re happy isn’t so crazy after all: A forthcoming study in the journal Psychological Science found that people who are often reduced to happy tears may actually be better at regulating their emotions.

HEALTH.COM: 3 Reasons Why Crying Is Good for You

The researchers looked at “dimorphous expressions,” which is the technical term for when you’re experiencing one super strong emotion (say, happiness) but showing two expressions at the same time (like laughing and crying). To reach their findings, they asked people to report how they felt after viewing photos of babies, half of whom had their faces manipulated to give them rounder features and bigger eyes—tweaks meant to essentially push the participants past the edge of cute overload.

As expected, the babies with altered characteristics caused the strongest reactions, and more than half of participants said the photos caused them to feel not only happy but downright overwhelmed. But interestingly, many of the people in the overwhelmed group were also more likely to choose aggressive expressions, saying they wanted to pinch their cheeks or “eat them up.” And those people, the ones who used these dimorphous expressions, found it easier to regulate their intense feelings, says lead study author Oriana Aragón, PhD, a psychologist at Yale University.

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“People who peaked really high after seeing the babies actually got back down better from the experience,” suggesting that two contrasting expressions may be the brain‘s way of bringing you back into equilibrium, Aragón explains.

The researchers also reported that the cheek-pinchers were more likely to say they shed tears during happy moments—like being reunited with a loved one—so the findings may apply to a lot of situations, from laughing when you’re nervous to bawling over that paraplegic veteran who surprised his new wife by standing up for their first dance.

So, no need to be embarrassed the next time you get all worked up, just let it out. You’ll be back to normal in no time.

HEALTH.COM: 22 Ways to Get Happy Now

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Research

5 Science-Backed Reasons Why Music is Good for You

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Next time you’re preparing for a work presentation, crank up the Bach

Music is a powerful medium: Not only does it make us want to jump to our feet and “shake it off, shake it off” (thanks Taylor Swift), but soul-stirring tunes also can help us fight through myriad health challenges as well. Here are five great reasons to pump up the jams, and listen with intent:

It can help ease pain

Feeling achy? A study conducted in the journal Frontiers in Psychology found that when fibromyalgia patients were exposed to 10-minutes of music they liked—anything from pop to folk to classical—that was slower than 120 beats per minute, they experienced less pain versus when they listened to pink noise. The participants also saw an increase in their mobility with the music.

HEALTH.COM: 7 Tricks for Instant Calm

It could help you focus

Next time you’re preparing for a work presentation or studying for something, listen to a little Vivaldi or Bach. A 2007 study from the Stanford University School of Medicine found that tuning into music from the late baroque period, leads to changes in the brain (recorded by an fMRI scan) that help with attention and storing events into memory.

It elevates workout performance

We all know that bopping to Beyoncé can be a lifesaver during that cardio kickboxing class, but did you know it could also be the key to successfully sweating through those unbelievably grueling high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions, too? Researchers had 20 active adults perform two interval workouts—four, 30-second “all-out” cycling sprints with four minutes of rest in between—one with music and one without. Those who sweated to beats not only found the interval training much more enjoyable, but it also revved them up, making them exercise harder, too.

HEALTH.COM: 10 Mood-Boosting Meals

It cheers you up

As we creep into the colder months, those winter blues have a way of raining on our happiness parade. Luckily, music is a proven spirit saver. According to a 2011 study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, certain classical tunes caused folks to get the chills, which in turn led to the release of dopamine, a chemical in the brain that can help you feel jollier. To reap this mood-boosting benefit, download “Clair de Lune,” by Claude Debussy, “New World Symphony—Movement 4,” by Antonin Dvorak, and “First Breath After Coma” by Alexander Keats—they have all been scientifically proven to keep you in good cheer.

It can keep you calm

Switching to mellow music during a stressful drive may prevent road rage and even help you drive better, according to a 2013 study in the journal Ergonomics. Researchers found that upbeat music made people happy, but as soon as the drive became demanding, an abrupt dial change to more soothing tunes kept study participants calmer and boosted driving ability better than those who didn’t change the station as quickly.

HEALTH.COM: 12 Worst Habits For Your Mental Health

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Research

6 Breath Tests That Can Diagnose Disease

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A new study uses breath to diagnoses diabetes, but other diseases like cancer and obesity may be breath-detectable too

A new study shows that it may be possible to diagnose type 1 diabetes in kids even before the onset of severe illness.

Currently, about one in four kids with type 1 diabetes don’t know they have it until they start having life-threatening symptoms. However, a new study published in the Journal of Breath Research shows researchers might be able to diagnose the disease by detecting a chemical marker (acetone) in the breath that makes it smell sweet, but indicates a build-up of chemicals in the blood (ketones) that occurs when a person’s insulin levels are low. High levels of acetone in the breath can indicate high levels of ketones in the blood. The hope is that if proven effective, this breath test will help physicians make a diagnosis earlier.

Growing research suggests breath tests can be used to detect a variety of diseases, from diabetes to various cancers. Research is still early in some areas—and there are other factors beyond disease that can result in chemical markers in the blood and breath—but some medical institutions are already using the tests of a variety of diagnosis.

Type 1 Diabetes
In the new study, researchers collected compounds in the breath from 113 children and adolescents between the ages 7 and 18. They also measured the kids’ blood-sugar and ketone levels. They found a link between higher levels of acetone in the breath and ketones in the blood. “Our results have shown that it is realistically possible to use measurements of breath acetone to estimate blood ketones,” said study author Gus Hancock, a professor at Oxford in a statement. “We are working on the development of a small hand-held device that would … help to identify children with new diabetes.”

Colorectal Cancer
In a small study published in 2012 in the British Journal of Surgery, researchers from the the University Aldo Moro of Bari in Italy collected the breath of 37 patients with colorectal cancer and 41 healthy control participants. The researchers were measuring the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the participants’ breath, with the thought being that cancer tissues and cells may release distinct chemicals. The researchers were able to identify 15 of 58 specific compounds that were correlated with colorectal cancer. Based on this, the were also able to distinguish between cancer patients and healthy patients with 75% accuracy.

Lung Cancer
In 2013, researchers from the University of Latvia used an electronic nose-like device to identify a unique chemical signature in lung cancer patients. As TIME has previously reported, there are several groups who think this process can be standardized for cancer with further research. In June, scientists at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Chicago presented a device they think has real promise.

Obesity
There are obviously a number of ways that obesity can be diagnosed without a breath test, but a 2013 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that obese people had unique markers in their breath, too. Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center studied the breath of 792 men and women trying to detect methane. Those with higher levels of methane and hydrogen gases in their breath also tended to be heavier with a BMI around 2.4 points greater than those with normal gas levels. The hope, the researchers say, is that a test could be developed that could detect a type of bacteria that may be involved in both weight and levels of gas in the breath. There may be ways to clinically curb that bacteria growth.

Lactose Intolerance
Johns Hopkins Medicine uses breath testing to help diagnose lactose intolerance. Patients drink a lactose-heavy drink and clinicians will analyzed the breath for hydrogen, which is produced when lactose isn’t digested and is fermented by bacteria.

Fructose Intolerance
Johns Hopkins also uses breath tests to assess whether an individual is allergic or intolerant to fructose, a sugar used to sweeten some beverage and found naturally in foods like onions, artichokes, and wheat. The test is similar to a breath test for lactose intolerance. Patients will drink a cup of water with dissolved fructose and over a three hour period, clinicians will test their breath. Once again, a high presence of hydrogen can indicate that the patient is not properly digesting it.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Here’s the Scientific Way to Make a Perfect Pumpkin Pie

Prebake the crust for pumpkin pie before filling

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The kind of fat that goes into a pie dough can totally change the chemistry of the crust—and for a supremely flaky crust, you can’t beat lard, as former White House pastry chef Bill Yosses explains in the above selection from the 2014 World Science Festival event “Biophysics? More like Pie-o-Physics!” (Yosses is something of an authority on deliciousness; earlier this year, President Obama joked that his pies were so good he must be lacing them with crack cocaine.)

But traditional Thanksgiving fare presents additional “pie-o-physics” conundrums. Pumpkin pie filling is closer on the pastry evolutionary tree to flan or custard. Baking one requires some special considerations, according to Yosses.

In pumpkin pie, “the eggs coagulate to form a silken smooth network,” Yosses told us. “The egg proteins shrink as they cook, and you need to stop the process at the right time.” The time to remove a pumpkin pie, he says, is when it is “set,” but the center should still jiggle when shaken in the oven. “This is sensitive because too little cooking and the pie will be liquid.”

To avoid overcooking his pumpkin pies, one trick Yosses likes to employ is to lower the bottom of pie dish into cold water for about 30 seconds right after taking it out of the oven (take care not to splash water or burn yourself). This will stop the protein threads from continuing to cook.

“I like a filling made with acorn squash and some sugar pumpkin, and I love trying all kinds of vegetable and ginger variations—but then it is not really a pumpkin pie,” Yosses says. He prebakes the crust for his pumpkin pie before filling. If you do the same, but don’t want an extra-crispy edge on the crust that forms during the second round in the oven, he recommends covering the edge with aluminum foil before baking.

If any foodies reading this feel guilty about going with canned pumpkin instead of the fresh stuff, take comfort in the fact that Yosses himself often reaches for a can of Libby’s pumpkin pie mix. As he says: “Why reinvent the wheel?”

This piece originally appeared on World Science Festival.

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