An intriguing new study suggests that the full moon impairs sleep quality and duration in humans.
FULL MOON DECREASES SLEEP
Folklore has it that a full moon brings on strange happenings. Indeed, the terms “lunatic” and “lunacy” are derived from the Latin word luna which, in turn, refers to the moon. Among the many claims that have been made regarding the power of the full moon to affect human behavior is the claim that it interferes with sleep. However, this assertion has never before been tested by objective scientific study. (On the other hand, many marine animals have been shown to respond to the various phases of the lunar cycle.) Now, a newly published study suggests that humans may also respond to the moon’s phases, and that sleep may actually be significantly impaired when the moon is full. This new study appears in this current issue of the journal Current Biology.
The data for this clinical research study was collected from a prior sleep study that included 33 adult volunteers. Because this sleep study was conducted in a sleep laboratory where exposure to light (including moonlight) was blocked, the study’s volunteers could not have been influenced by the extra light of the full moon. Additionally, as the idea for this “full moon study” only came about after the original sleep study was completed, the 33 research volunteers had no idea that their participation in this clinical study was in any way related to the phases of the moon.
The researchers conducting this study reviewed sleep structure, EEGs (electroencephalograms) during sleep, and the secretion of the hormone melatonin (which helps to regulate the sleep-wake cycle in humans). When this sleep study data was correlated with the lunar cycle, the researchers were surprised to find objective evidence that the full moon really does appear to negatively impact on the human sleep cycle. For example, EEG studies showed that brain wave activity associated with deep sleep decreased by 30 percent on the nights when a full moon was present. The research volunteers also took, on average, 5 extra minutes to fall asleep on the night of a full moon, and total sleep duration decreased by 20 minutes when a full moon was present. The researchers also found that melatonin levels in the blood were significantly decreased when a full moon was present.
Based upon these findings, this very small, but intriguing, clinical research study suggests that the full moon may actually exert a behavioral effect on humans, and may impair sleep (perhaps by decreasing melatonin secretion). While this clinical study included too few volunteers to clearly link the presence of a full moon with sleep interruption in humans, it does strongly suggest that such an effect is possible.
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Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, professor of surgery, cancer researcher, oncology consultant, and a widely published author
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