Phases of the Moon and its Impact on Sleep
One of the essential biological requirements is sleep. Unfortunately, sleep is sensitive to a vast number of things. Even the slightest reason can cause disturbed sleep and leave us feeling tired the whole day. Besides food, sleep is one of those requirements that are not only required in enough quantity every single day but the lack of which can cause various health problems. Sleep is also highly varied; the sleep patterns in one person can be dramatically different from another. While some prefer to sleep at night, there are those that prefer to sleep in the morning and work during the night. Despite all these variations, the one thing that remains constant is the need for sleep. Humans, animals and even plants need a period of rest. Without rest, no living creature can function at their fullest.
Several factors affect sleep, from medical conditions to environmental reasons. Given the hectic schedules and unhealthy lifestyles of today, it is not surprising that sleep disorders are on the rise. Physical conditions like sleep apnea and snoring are some of the most recognized sleep disorders, but there are many other factors that also contribute to poor sleep quality. Environmental factors also play a big role in sleep quality. From ambient light to the noise of traffic, sleep can be disturbed by various reasons. Stress is also an important reason that can interfere with proper sleep and leave a person feeling tired and sleepy all the time.
But did you know that the moon could also have a role to play in our sleep patterns and quality? The phases of the moon, also called lunar phases are known to have a connection with human behavior as well as the behavior of various other creatures. The phases of the moon also control the waterbodies, high and low tides and currents. People who suffer from chronic pain often find their aches getting worse during certain lunar phases. Like the sun, the moon also has a gravitational force that has some impact on the earth. But the connection between the lunar phases and sleep patterns of humans was not known even till a few years ago. Thanks to a group of Swiss scientists, we now know why we sleep well on certain lunar phases and not so well on others.
The Phases of The Moon
The moon appears to be a circular disc when viewed from Earth. It is called Earth’s natural satellite, illuminated by the sun. The moon does not have any light of its own and relies on the illumination of the Sun. But the moon is never eliminated by the sun, only half of it is. That is why on every other day except the full moon night, we see only a part of the moon.
The lunar cycle consists of 29.5 days, called the lunar orbit or the lunar month. For the first half of the cycle, as the moon orbits the earth, it goes from being fully illuminated to partially illuminated to not illuminated at all. For the next half of the cycle, the moon then goes back to being partially illuminated and then eliminated on a full moon night.
Even though this process depends on the moon’s orbit around the earth, there are eight distinct phases of the moon. Knowing about these phrases is important before understanding how they influence our bodies and biological functions.
- New Moon: This is the night when the moon is not visible at all because its unilluminated side is towards the Earth. The New Moon is only visible during a solar eclipse.
- Waxing Crescent: In this phase, the moon is barely visible, with less than one half of it illuminated by sunlight. From this phase, the portion of the illuminated moon increases.
- First Quarter: In this phase, the moon appears to be half of the illuminated by the sun while the other half is still dark.
- Waxing Gibbous: This is the phase before full moon when the moon is illuminated by more than half but less than the whole.
- Full Moon: One whole side of the moon is illuminated and facing the Earth. The moon is the brightest on full moon nights.
- Waning Gibbous: The waning phase of the moon is when it goes from full moon to no moon. The process is the same as that of the waxing phase, but only on the reverse. Instead of increasing, the illuminated portion of the moon keeps decreasing. In the waning crescent, more than one-half of the moon is fully illuminated by the sun.
- Last Quarter: In this phase, the Moon appears to be half illuminated by sunlight.
- Waning Crescent – The illuminated portion of the Moon has decreased further and is now less than one-half visible.
How The Moon Affects Sleep?
Although the moon keeps changing throughout the cycle, they can be divided into these eight main phases, all of which affect the Earth as well as our biological functions. On some nights, the sky appears bright or darker than others. Most of us were not aware until recently that the moon phases also affect our sleep cycle. It was in 2013 that a group of Swiss scientists concluded that the moon phases have a certain effect on our sleep cycle, but the research was conducted several years earlier.
Scientists from the Psychiatric University Hospital (UPK) at the University of Basel in Switzerland conducted the study involving 33 volunteers. The volunteers lived in a laboratory environment for close to a week, while their sleep patterns were studied. The group had equal numbers of men and women and included young adults between age 20 and 31 and older adults between ages 57 to 74. All the participants had good health and sleep quality and did not consume caffeine or alcohol.
Several things were found as a result of the study. Even when the participants were given no indication of the time of day and not exposed to the light of the moon in any way, all the findings were in relation with the full moon.
It was found that the participants took a long time to fall asleep on the night of a full moon and their sleep quality was also poorer than other nights. The full moon also affected brain activity during slow-wave sleep and caused a drop-in melatonin level. The volunteers also reported shorter sleep duration on full moon nights.
Why Does the Moon Affect Sleep?
Although the findings clearly suggest that sleep quality is poor on full moon nights, the reason is quite unknown. The researchers were not able to put the finger on the exact reason why the moon’s phases affected the sleep patterns.
Most people would tend to assume that the gravitational forces of the Moon are responsible for the changes in sleep patterns. But the researchers claimed that gravitational force is not the factor that’s responsible. Researchers believe that although the moon’s gravitational force has an impact on the earth as well as the tides in the oceans, it does not have such an effect on the human body. The reason that researchers provide is that our internal body clock is linked to the phases of the moon. Much like the circadian rhythm, the human body’s connection with the cycle of the moon is called circalunar rhythm.
Researchers also believe that the lower melatonin levels on full moon nights could have something to do with the evolutionary past of humans. When humans were hunters, full moon nights were the best time to go hunting because there was light everywhere and things were more visible. That pattern might still be found sometimes in humans.
There is no conclusive evidence that the moon in that has any effect on the sleep pattern of humans, but the moon affects several other processes on the earth. This is because of the moon’s gravitational pull.
Moon’s Gravity and The Earth
A lot of people assume that the Moon’s gravitational force influences people’s behavior. But there is no evidence to prove this. There is a lot of folklore regarding lunacy and the Moon’s cycles. Because the phases of the moon were thought to influence insanity, it was also called lunacy. While there is no evidence to prove that the moon’s phases affected a person’s mental condition, researchers to believe that the full moon influenced the sleep patterns of people before modern lighting was invented. This is because the light from a full moon kept people up at night and the sleep deprivation caused behavioral problems.
The biggest influence of the moon’s cycles is on the tidal ebb and flow. This proves that the Moon’s gravitational force does not have the same effect all over the Earth. When the gravitational force becomes stronger the water in the seas and oceans ebbs, and when the force is not so strong, it flows back towards the shore. The gravitational pull is mostly felt in places closer to the moon, such as open water bodies.
Even if there is no conclusive evidence to prove the moon’s impact on sleep patterns, it is just another excuse to blame the moon when we remain tired in office!