Recent graduate receives grant for sleep psychology research

  • Anna Johnson headshot
  • Anna Johnson headshot

Alumna Anna Johnson ('21) is the recent recipient of a Psi Chi regional research award. Psi Chi is a psychology honor society whose mission is to recognize and promote excellence in the psychology field. Johnson's abstract, Sleep and Cognition in Undergraduate Students, was selected at the Midwestern Psychological Association’s annual meeting out of over 550 abstracts.

Johnson, a psychology major and music minor, found an interest while at NWU in researching how the lack of sleep can affect undergraduate students. 

Where to start

Johnson became interested in sleep research after hearing about the topic in class. Professor of Psychology Dr. Marilyn Petro encouraged Johnson to learn more as sleep research is an area of psychology with little recognition. "I thought it was the most interesting thing that we don’t talk about sleep."

Johnson wanted to be original in her research, "My project examined students’ abilities to pay attention. Especially, if students wake up with or without an alarm. [The project] was a huge time commitment for me.” But she knew her hard work would help her succeed during her time at NWU and beyond. 

Research in action 

Johnson described the processes of conducting the research project with a sense of excitement - a process that would eventually lead her to the Psi Chi award. “There were three parts to my study. Prototype was one part, and cognition and reaction time were the second parts. The third concept was social jet lag which occurs when someone’s sleep rhythm doesn’t match up with the time they have to wake up for school or work, "said Johnson." I had students come in on different days, and we discovered if they were morning or night people using a questionnaire. One day they got up with an alarm and one time they did not to see if their social jet lag was associated with their alarms. People waking up with an alarm had worse reactions times than those who woke up naturally."

Understanding how sleep rhythms and cognitive thinking was essential to her project. She was surprised at how social jet lag has such a heavy impact on students’ daily lives. Her project encompassed the differences between natural sleep processes and using external devices to wake up. “I think it is interesting to see how sometimes people can struggle to pay attention to certain classes, like classes that start in the morning. I saw the consequences of what I was studying and the impact it has on people’s everyday lives. When I was doing my research, I found that people experiencing social jet lag may experience difficulties throughout the day. It’s possible the social prototypes might have more inherent problems, I want to explore that further,” said Johnson.

Support makes all the difference 

Her unique research showed great promise in helping her apply for graduate schools. With the prestigious Psi Chi award, she had the experience needed to take her psychology career to the next level. “I love sleep research and reading about it. I wanted to contribute to the field. I also wanted the experience. It’s important to have research, especially going to graduate school. Hopefully my research project can help me out a little bit,” said Johnson.

Along the way, Johnson had the support she needed to be successful in her project. Nebraska Wesleyan faculty members Dr. Elizabeth Freeman, Dr. Petro, and Dr. Trace Vardsveen all gave Johnson advice to perfect her craft. “Dr. Freeman was so great. She was always there to help me no matter what. She said we had an open invitation to her office and she helped me navigate [my research] during COVID. It was a positive experience." Johnson continued, "Dr. Petro gave me some good insight about sleep research as well, and Dr. Vardsveen was so helpful with my statistical design."

Johnson's research project captivated the eyes of Psi Chi honor society, and her colleagues here at NWU. Congratulations, Anna on your academic success and we look forward to seeing you grow as a psychology scholar!