A full Moon often evokes images of people transitioning into werewolves under the moonlight or a witch on a broomstick. There is something very mythological and magical about the Moon which is why it has been the focus of folktales, mythology, and stories for centuries.
Many first responders or those who work in a hospital believe a full Moon will mean they are in for a busy and bizarre night. In fact, around the world, some hospitals will schedule more staff during a full Moon.
The word lunacy, meaning a state of insanity, originated from the mid 16th century, referring to the insane changes in behavior caused by the Moon using the Latin root luna (moon). This effect on behavior has since been dubbed “the Transylvania effect.”
The Moon can affect your behavior and your sleep, and there are some interesting theories as to why this occurs. Even if you are incredibly comfortable with your buckwheat pillow and cherry pit heating pad, the Moon can cause some sleep disruption and even lead to full Moon insomnia.
The Moon can affect your mood and behavior. Most research has shown that changes in our mood can align with the lunar cycles. The U.S Department of Justice released a report that found correlations between the Moon’s cycles and cases of homicide, suicide, traffic fatalities, aggravated assault, and psychiatric emergency room visits. A Florida study found similar results. Researchers looked at police records over a five year period and found an increase in homicide and aggravated assault around a full Moon.
This is aligned with a study that found 81% of mental health professionals believed that the full Moon could make people ill. Similarly, a 2019 study of a woman with bipolar II disorder found a Moon-mood connection.
A psychologist named Thomas Wehr found that his 17 rapid-cycling bipolar disorder patients showed a regularity and commonality in their episodes. He examined these changes and compared them to the lunar cycle for an extended period. He found that the period between a full Moon and a new Moon is what his patients have synchronized with. The switch into a state of depression or mania would occur in 14.8 days. Unable to determine the cause for this, it was hypothesized that this switch might have been triggered by sleep disruption caused by the Moon.
The Lunar Influence: Research On The Moon’s Affect On Your Sleep
Several sleep studies have looked at the effect the Moon has on your sleep. Basel University in Switzerland conducted a study in 2013. The study consisted of 33 volunteers who were blissfully unaware of the study’s purpose and couldn’t see the Moon from their beds. The room was set up with optimal sleep conditions, and the room was darkened. By darkening the room, the scientists could rule out that it was the brighter light that was disrupting sleep and something much more “lunar.”
This study was conducted over a three-year-period with laboratory sleep sessions of three and a half days. Researchers collected data on sleep latency, overall sleep time, brain activity, time in sleep stages, and melatonin levels.
The results found that when there was a full Moon, the participants took about 5 minutes longer to fall asleep, slept for 20 minutes less, and had 30% less deep sleep (to read more about deep sleep and sleep stages, check out our blog post Sleep Stages: What They Are and How Much You Need). They also found that melatonin levels dropped in the days surrounded the full Moon, and levels were the lowest on the night of the full Moon. Professor Christian Cajochen concluded that “the lunar cycle seems to influence human sleep, even when one does not see the Moon and is not aware of the actual Moon phase.”
Another paper published in Science Advances examined sleep cycles and the 29.5 day lunar cycle. This paper looked at the effects in both urban and rural settings and included Seattle, Washington college students, and indigenous communities in northern Argentina. The participants in the study wore wrist trackers to track their sleep. The research saw that lunar influence occurred no matter the environment. Three to five days leading up to the full moon, people fell asleep 30 minutes later, and the duration of sleep was shorter by 50 minutes.
So, why does the mood affect your sleep?
No one has been able to answer question this yet, but there are a few theories. According to psychiatrist and sleep expert Dr. Alex Dimitriu, the increase in evening light may suppress your body’s melatonin production. Although this could contribute, it doesn’t explain the results from the Basel University study.
University of Washington professor, Horacio de la Iglesia, Ph.D., who was involved in the Science Advances study, believes it may have to do with the moon’s gravity. According to de la Iglesia, “we believe that the gravitational pull cycles associated with the lunar month may predispose humans to be particularly sensitive to the effects of light, moonlight, or artificial, on the nights close to the full moon.” This could have an impact on our circadian rhythm.
Another theory is that this is an innate behavior that protected us back in our caveman days. When sleeping in the elements, bright moonlight would make you more visible to predators. To help survive the night, you would sleep lighter so you would hear any threats approaching. Further to this, we were hunters in our past, and the full Moon was the perfect time to hunt. According to author and expert Leandro Casiraghi, “We hypothesize that the patterns we observed are an innate adaptation that allowed our ancestors to take advantage of this natural source of evening light that occurred at a specific time during the lunar cycle.”
The Moon's physical effect on our bodies has been known for some time. Long-term studies have found that a female’s menstrual cycle can sync up with the Moon cycle. The average length of a menstrual cycle matches that of the lunar cycle. Although the research is still inconclusive, many cultures have practiced this belief and believed the Moon affected fertility. It seems there are more anecdotal reports than scientific studies, but if you do find yourself with menstrual cramps on the full Moon, soothe the pain with a cherry pit heating pad and block out the moonlight.
More babies are born during a full Moon as well. A study in Japan found that more babies were born when the Moon was closest to the earth. A supermoon can therefore cause a Moon-induced baby boom.
Animals, specifically marine life, are also aligned with the lunar cycle. Many organisms use the circalunar clock, using the Moon as their clock. They then align their sleep patterns and reproduction with the Moon. It is believed the influence of the Moon on the tide also influences animals near or in the water. As you can see, the Moon is the original influencer. These lunar influences affect humans and animals in a number of ways.
Overcoming Full Moon Insomnia
Although you can’t trick your body out of its natural lunar intuition, there are some things you can do to help you sleep better. The Moon’s light definitely won’t help, so try to darken your bedroom as best you can. Room darkening blinds or a sleeping eye mask can help keep out the moonlight.
Make sure you are comfortable as well. If you are tossing and turning with aches and pains, it will only make your sleep troubles worse. Some believe that chronic pain, arthritis, and body aches increase during a full Moon. Try a cherry pit heating pad to ease cramps, back pain, or menstrual pain. For shoulder and neck pain, ensure your head is supported with a good pillow like a buckwheat hulls pillow. When picking out your pillow, consider your sleep position. This will determine where you need support and help you keep a better sleeping posture. For example, if you are a stomach sleeper, you should use a stomach sleeper pillow.
Lastly, remind yourself – just because there is a full Moon doesn’t mean you are guaranteed to have a restless slumber. Researchers have expressed concern with confirmation bias after releasing their results. If you believe you will have a bad sleep because of a full Moon, you are much more likely to. According to sleep expert Dr. Neil Stanley, “full Moons are mentioned in people's diaries. Everyone is writing about super Moons and blue Moons these days. It may be just a self-fulfilling prophecy”.
The research thus far highlights the primal, biological processes involved in sleep. There is a lot at work when you lay down on your stomach sleeper pillow at night. If you have found yourself tossing and turning under the moonlight, don’t worry – you aren’t turning into a werewolf. It’s simply your body’s lunar intuition. Although it can’t be avoided, practice the sleep tips listed here, and you will reduce your full Moon insomnia and sleep better.