Discover the medicine of the moon

The link between moon beams and dreams

The moon is the nearest heavenly body to earth. No wonder then that, as with all neighbours, we have made up all sorts of stories about it over the centuries. The tales regarding the power of the moon range from the bizarre to the factual. It has been said for instance that the moon can do everything from turn unsuspecting chaps into werewolves to influence the tides. This sort of legendary stuff says a lot more about humanity than the moon. I mean come on, ‘influence the tides’! Still rumours of the power of the moon persist and according to a new study it seems that the phase of the moon can affect your sleep.

Our relationship with the moon is an intimate one. This is evidenced clearly but the fact that we have allowed this cosmic neighbour to so liberally invade our language. We say we are ‘over the moon’ to indicate extreme pleasure and ‘mooning’ is a popular past-time among university students (apparently referring to the propensity of students to study well into the night). The word ‘lunatic’ comes from the Latin ‘luna’ for moon, because it was believed that people were more likely to exhibit strange behaviour during a full moon. This last example is an illustration of the implicit belief that the moon and its cycles can influence human biology and behaviour. You don’t have to read Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde to see this in action because there are many scientific papers also documenting the moon’s impact on the genus Homo. The latest of these is one that examined whether, as folklore has it, a full moon alters human sleep patterns.

To study this researchers used data gathered from volunteers who slept in a sleep lab. While they did their brain activity, eye movements, and hormone levels in different sleep phases were measured. Neither the participants nor the people collecting the data knew that the results would be matched against moon phases. Additionally, while in the sleep lab the participants were not able to see the moon from their beds.

The results showed that the full moon had definite effects on sleep. For instance, during the full moon deep sleep as evidenced by rapid eye movement decreased by about 33 per cent. On average it took subjects five minutes longer to fall asleep on a full moon and their overall sleep time was reduced by around 20 minutes. Additionally, during a full moon there was a drop in the hormone melatonin, the hormone that regulates the body clock and sleep cycles.

The researchers think this is evidence that our biology is affected by the moon and that the connection is a hangover from our primitive past when the moon was the only night-light we had. So it seems the idea that a full moon can affect your sleep is not so loony (or is that lunar?) after all.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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