The moon effect…
I was in a taxi last Saturday evening on my way home from a party, no I’m not an all night rager, it was my father in laws 70th.
The taxi ride home was an interesting one. I was super tired as we had only returned from our holiday that afternoon so was trying to stay awake in the taxi. Is been up since 5am and it was now 11pm.
Trying to stay awake I decided to make conversation with the taxi driver, who seemed pleasant, so I passed comment that the moon was low. Which it was. It looked as though it was sitting on the top of the buildings in the horizon. It was quite pretty.
To my shock the driver responded with ‘yes it’s the 3rd quarter. Almost a full moon, young girls go crazy with a full moon’. I wasn’t sure how to respond so I asked ‘why do young girls go crazy with a full moon?’. He proceeded to tell me many reasons such as it interferes with their sleeping, it heightens their emotions and it stimulates growth. I was intrigued so asked for a further explanation. His response was interesting.
According to this taxi driver, the moon is what stimulates growth not the sun. So when it’s a full moon or 3rd quarter as he called it, the ‘stimulation levels’ are high and the brightness causes the body to think it’s day light and young girls can’t sleep. Apparently it doesn’t have the same effect on boys.
I needed to know more as it to me, could be believable however I still had doubt that thus perhaps could just be a ‘good story’. With this new knowledge in hand I decided to do more research in the subject.
Whatever you believe, perhaps it’s the light shining high in the sky that makes our brain over active that causes us our own craziness?
Below is what I found.
The modern genre of werewolf books, TV series and movies are in complete agreement with the 1941 Hollywood classic film The Wolf Man. Yep, if you are so inclined, the full Moon will turn you into a lunatic werewolf.
Indeed, that rather antiquated word ‘lunacy’ comes from Luna, who was the Roman Goddess of the Moon. One definition of lunacy is “intermittent insanity once believed to be related to phases of the moon”.
This belief goes back a long way. The Roman scientist and military commander, Pliny the Elder, said that because the full Moon causes a very heavy nocturnal dew, it must also make the brain become “unnaturally moist”. That was how, he claimed, the Moon caused both epilepsy and lunacy. He was wrong.
Even so, the belief is still common today. One survey in the USA found that about 40 per cent of the general population, and 80 per cent of mental health professionals, believe that the phase of the Moon affects human behaviour.
And yet, 99+ per cent of the evidence says that the Moon has no effect on human behaviour.
The Moon takes just under a month to run from full (brightest), to half-full, to new (darkest), to half-full and back to full again.
But it’s the full Moon that is claimed to be related to a huge list of human misery, including accidents, alcoholism, anxiety, assaults, calls to crisis telephone numbers, casino activity, depression, domestic violence, drug overdoses and, of course, emergency-room visits.
If that’s not enough, it’s also supposedly responsible for human-made disasters, illegal drug use, kidnappings, murders, natural disasters, prison violence, psychiatric disturbance, psychiatric patient admissions, self-harm, shooting incidents, stabbings, suicides, the amount of food we eat, traffic accidents and so on.
Over the last half-century, thousands of studies have looked at the Moon’s effect upon the behaviours in my little list. Occasionally, one of these studies will show a correlation with the fullness of the Moon. But then the more thorough follow-up studies show absolutely no correlation at all.
Mind you, that’s what the scientific literature shows. That’s quite different from what will appear in your local newspaper, or on your TV. After all, the journalists have a deadline to keep, and a story to manufacture, and they won’t let the facts get in the way.
But there is a place for the lunar effect. You see, in the academic papers, the people studied are in modern societies, and have artificial light at night.
But before artificial lighting, people stayed up later on the full Moon. After all, if the full Moon is hanging in the sky, it’s 250-times brighter than if there’s no moonlight at all.
So, even today, in so-called primitive societies that don’t have artificial lighting at night, a full Moon is the occasion for a party, revelry and a general good time. The fabric of their society is organised around the full Moon. So if there are more people around, then obviously there will be more frequent mishaps.
Definitely, more people around does mean more human activity.
But in our modern technological society, does the Moon make people go mad, does it increase numbers at hospital emergency rooms or does it increase self-harm? Nope, the hard evidence says it doesn’t happen.
One theory that’s been put forward to explain this non-existent lunar-lunacy effect is that the Moon has a huge effect on the tides, which are made of water. Therefore, runs the biological-tides theory, because we are mostly water, the Moon must have an effect on us.
This so-called ‘theory’ is wrong in a few ways.
First, the Moon-tides thing happens because the oceans are large, and made of a liquid. They would still happen if the liquid was freezing liquid hydrogen, room temperature mercury, or hot liquid iron. It doesn’t have to be water.
Second, tides happen only over large expanses, not within the small dimensions of a human body.
Third, the ocean tides still happen if the Moon is full, new or half-full. The Moon still has a gravitational effect even if the Sun doesn’t fully light it up for us.
A better theory to explain it all is selective recall. It’s a busy night, and you look out the window to see that rare animal, the full Moon. You put two and two together to make five, and assume that the full Moon made your night busy.
This belief that the full Moon massively affects human behaviour is a cultural fossil. It’s a memory of the effect that we would party on a full Moon, way back when we had no artificial light.
Article by Jeffrey Kluger
Jeffrey Kluger is a senior editor for oversees TIME’s science and technology reporting.
We are all, quite literally, lunatics—and I mean that in the nicest way possible. It is the moon, after all, that is responsible for the luna part of that word—and the moon has always made us at least a little crazy. Over our long history we have been charmed by it, spooked by it, seduced by it. We kiss by the moon, go to war by the moon, we spent $25 billion—in 1960s money, no less—to go to the moon. So it’s hardly a surprise that the moon is in some very real ways inside of us all.
The human menstrual cycle is the best-known example of the way our bodies—over millions of years of evolution—have synchronized themselves to the rhythms of the moon. Less well-known is the lunar link to the electrochemistry of the brain in epileptic patients, which changes in the few days surrounding a new moon, making seizures more likely. And then there are the anecdotal accounts of the effects the moon has on sleep
People have long reported that it is harder to get to sleep and remain asleep when the moon is full, and even after a seemingly good night’s rest, there can be a faint sluggishness—a sort of full-moon hangover—that is not present on other days. If you’re sleeping on the prairie or in a settler’s cabin with no shades, the simple presence of moonlight is an inescapable explanation. But long after humans moved indoors into fully curtained and climate-controlled homes, the phenomenon has remained. What’s never been clear is whether it’s the real deal—if the moon really does mess with us–or if it’s some combination of imagination and selective reporting, with people who believe in lunar cycles seeing patterns where none exist. Now, a report in the journal Current Biology suggests that the believers have been right all along.
For a research paper that was just released today, the initial work took place an awful long time ago. In 2000, a team of investigators from the University of Basel, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and the Switzerland Centre for Sleep Medicine, recruited 33 volunteers and studied them in a sleep lab on and off over the course of three years. The investigators gathered a range of data—brain wave activity during sleep as measured by electroencephalograms (EEG); levels of melatonin, a sleep-related hormone; the amount of time it took subjects to fall asleep and the amount of time they spent in deep sleep; and their subjective reports of how rested they felt the next day. All of it was intended to learn more about human sleep patterns in a general way and, more specifically, how they are affected by age and gender. Only a decade later did the investigators realize that they may be able to re-crunch the data to learn about the moon.
“The aim of exploring the influence of different lunar phases on sleep regulation was never a priori hypothesized,” they wrote in a wonderfully candid passage in their paper. “We just thought of it after a drink in a local bar one evening at full moon.”
Thus should all great science be done, since as it turned out, the second look revealed intriguing patterns. On average, the subjects in the study took five minutes longer to fall asleep on the three or four nights surrounding a full moon and they slept for 20 fewer minutes. In addition, EEG activity related to deep sleep fell 30%, melatonin levels were lower and the subjects reported feeling less refreshed the next day than on other days. The subjects slept in a completely darkened lab with no sight of the moon, and none of them—at least from what was known—appeared to have given any thought at all to lunar cycles. And since the moon was not an experimental variable in the original study, it was never mentioned either to the subjects or even among the investigators.
In terms of scientific reliability, all of this is both good and not so good. A study can’t get more effectively double-blind than if no one is even thinking about the thing you wind up testing for, which makes the findings uniquely objective. On the other hand, the ideal moon study would have been carefully set up to give equal weight to every night in the lunar cycle. This study—while capturing most of the nights in the month—did so in a less rigorous way.
“The a posteriori analysis is a strength and a weakness,” concedes lead author Christian Cajochen, head of the University of Basel’s Centre for Chronobiology, in an e-mail to TIME. “The strength is that investigators and subject expectations are not likely to influence the results, yet the weakness is that each subject was not studied across all lunar phases.”
Even if the moon has as significant an effect on sleep as the study suggests, what’s less clear is the mechanism behind it. Dark labs eliminate the variable of light, so that can’t be it. And before you ask, no, it’s not gravity either. The authors stress that while lunar gravity does indeed raise tides in the oceans, it doesn’t on lakes and even many seas. Those bodies are simply too small to feel the effects—to say nothing of human bodies.
Rather, the answer is simply that we, like every other species on Earth, evolved on a particular planet with a particular set of astronomical cycles—day and night, full moons and less full—and our circadian systems adapted. It’s hard to say where the internal clock is in, say, a flowering plant, but in humans, it’s likely in the suprachiasmatic nuclei, a tiny region of the brain near the optic nerve involved in the production of melatonin, certain neurotransmitters and other time-keeping chemicals, all in a rhythm consistent with both its terrestrial and cosmic surroundings. Physically, human beings may be creatures of just this world, but our brains—and our behavior—appear to belong to two.
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