The moon has been held responsible for everything ranging from increasing the tides to the murder rate as well as the werewolf rate. A recent study by researchers at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden has found something new to add to the list, finding a correlation between lunar cycles and interrupted sleep patterns. The study focused on 47 healthy young adults, observing their sleep in windowless rooms to avoid moonlight becoming a factor. The fluctuations caused by the moon pertained mostly to REM sleep, the deepest and arguably most important stage of rest.
Rapid eye movement sleep (REM) is the fifth and final stage of sleep where most dreaming occurs. Characterized by increased respiration, brain activity and muscle relaxation/paralysis, REM sleep is considered to be the most vital stage due to the release of dopamine and serotonin. Although the exact mechanisms are still not understood, the spread of the two neurotransmitters throughout the spinal column and body have a relaxing, restorative effect that is integral to healing and the reorganization of thoughts in the mind.
The researchers found that not only was sleep disrupted more easily during full moons, but it was delayed on average of 25 minutes. During new moons, the time that they are at their darkest, they found that REM sleep was extended by an average of half an hour. These results are in line with other studies that have found a diminishing in sleep duration in the days surrounding the full moon. Similarly, the authors of the study found full moons to be correlated with a loss of 20 minutes of sleep on average as well as needing an additional five minutes to fall asleep. The test group also reported a drop in sleep quality in their opinions, with brain maps revealing a reduction in melatonin levels (a hormone responsible for sleep regulation) as well as a 30 percent decrease in delta waves associated with deep sleep. The hormone cortisol, associated with stress and the fight-or-flight response, was also found to be elevated during the full moon and lower for new moons.
A genetic or psychological basis
Although the idea of sleep cycles being related to lunar cycles, known as circalunar rhythmicity, has been observed in some species of marine mammals, there has been a relatively small amount of research on the presence of it in humans. Some studies examining the effects of sleep without notifying the participants have found no indications of circalunar rhythmicity, suggesting that the results of the other studies may have been due to subconscious attention to lunar cycles since they were informed about it in the study beforehand.
Other possible factors include the moon’s gravity, which technically place increased stress on the neurochemicals of the brain. Considering the moon’s pull can raise tides, it is not very farfetched that it can be affecting neurotransmitters or simply be placing more stress on the brain in general, resulting in anxiety and insomnia.
Regardless of whether circalunar rhythmicity is based in genetic factors (as is believed in marine mammals) or in psychological reasons, which may be the case in humans, further research is required to establish a causal relationship and a definitive answer. When taken into context with the incredible punctuality that our bodies demonstrate and a growing body of research that suggests seasonal shifts have been linked to emotional changes in people, the truth is likely that the moon is in some way connected to our biological rhythms.
At Sovereign Health, we understand the importance of sleep in the treatment of mental health disorders and recovery, employing curfews to ensure our patients are healing properly both physically and psychologically. If you would like to learn more about anxiety disorders or recovery, feel free to browse the rest of our site or check out our reviews section.
Written by Sovereign Health Group writer, Chase Beckwith