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Not Getting Good Sleep? May Be the Moon!

Not Getting Good Sleep? May Be the Moon!

Good night, Moon. New research brings the first reliable evidence that lunar rhythms can influence sleep in humans, according to scientists.

The moon often gets blamed for madness on Earth. The Latin name for the moon, Luna, is the root of the word "lunatic."

However, scientific research has shown repeatedly the full moon apparently has no effect on human health. Although a few studies have found weak connections with the full moon and increased aggression and absenteeism, data analysis found no convincing evidence that full moons spur uptakes in mental hospital admissions, psychiatric disturbances, and homicides or other crimes. A 2010 study similarly found a lack of excess criminal activity on full-moon nights.

Therefore, sleep researchers in Switzerland were skeptical when people were complaining about poor sleep around the full moon. However, since they had completed a lab study on sleep a few years before, the scientists decided to review the results for possible evidence of effects the moon had on sleep.

Surprisingly, they discovered that the lunar cycle appears to influence human sleep, even when one does not see the moon and is not aware of the current moon phase.

During their previous four year study, the Swiss researchers had monitored the brain activity, eye movements and hormone secretions of volunteers in the laboratory while the participants slept. All the participants were healthy, good sleepers, and did not take any drugs or medication.

After reviewing their data, the scientists noted that during the time of the full moon, brain activity related to deep sleep dropped by 30 percent. Participants also took five minutes longer to fall asleep, and they slept for 20 minutes less overall on full-moon nights. The volunteers felt as though their sleep was poorer when the moon was full, and they showed diminished levels of melatonin, a hormone known to regulate sleep and wake cycles.

Circalunar Rhythms

Scientists have long known the human body often bases key activities on regular cycles, such as circadian rhythms, which are roughly a day in length. Based on these findings, the researchers suggest that humans might also experience circalunar rhythms that drive cycles a month long, roughly matching the time between two full moons.

A number of patterns in animal behavior are linked with the lunar cycle. Adult women also experience the menstrual cycle, which is usually a month or so long. This circalunar effect on sleep might be a relic from a past in which the moon synchronized human behaviors for sex or other purposes, much as it does in other animals.

Although the moon's gravitational pull clearly drives tides in the ocean, its tidal effects are much weaker on lakes and virtually non-existent on the human body. Rather than being driven by gravity's tug, any circalunar rhythms the body experiences may be set by moonlight.

The influence of electrical lighting and other aspects of modern life may mask the moon's hold on the human body. "It would be interesting to look at this in people still living outside without artificial light, but light from fireplaces," lead Swiss researcher Christian Cajochen said. "Another possibility would be to test different moonlight simulations and their repercussions on sleep in the lab."

As to whether disrupting circalunar rhythms might have ill effects on health, the effect of moonlight on any potential circalunar clock appears much weaker than that of daylight on the circadian clock.

It doesn’t appear that modern people constantly ruin their sleep when they don't see moonlight, but exposure to artificial light at night — that is, a time when our body clock does not expect light — would disrupt the natural sleep-wake cycle.

The scientists detailed their findings in the journal Current Biology.

Did you know that sleeping one extra hour a night can lower your heart attack risk by 33 percent? Skimping on sleep raises your risk for everything from high blood pressure to heart failure, stroke, diabetes and heart disease.

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