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Full Moon, Half Sleep

This summer was hailed for the high number of super moons that were viewed from Earth – these coincidences of the Earth being close to the Moon in its elliptical orbit and the occurrence of a full moon have been beautiful to behold. But a recent study conducted at the University of Toronto point to the notion that they may have wreaked havoc on people’s sleep.  The study points to a full moon having a negative impact on the human ability to fall asleep, as well as on the quantity of deep sleep that they are able to get. People don’t sleep as well or as long when the moon is full.

Specifically, on nights in which there is a full moon, people take almost twice as long to actually fall asleep as they do on nights without a full moon, with some taking as long as a full hour. The study followed over 300 middle-aged men and women and their sleeping habits and monitored the length of time that they slept, as well as how long it took them to fall asleep. On average it took women 52 minutes to fall asleep as compared to 25 to 30 minutes on other nights, and men took 60 minutes as compared to an average of 30.  The University of Toronto study follows another that was conducted in 2006 by scientists from the University of Berne in Switzerland, which showed that sleep quantity was shortened by a full moon.  Neither study offered any kind of definitive theory as to why the full moon had such an impact, though the Toronto researchers posited that the brain might be affected by the moon’s gravitational pull, as well as of solar radiation.

The wrote that “It cannot be excluded that the change in the electromagnetic radiation, or the gravitational ‘pull off’ of the moon, during this phase, may influence the release of neurohormones. Several observations suggest the lunar tidal force affects certain biochemical processes. The solar radiation reflected by the full moon and the lunar tidal force might modify brain activity.”

In contrast to the University of Toronto scientists’ theory, Professor Jim Horne, who was previously head of the Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University, offers a different possibility. “At least some of our early human ancestors lived by estuaries, where life was very dependent on the tides in terms of seafood. A full moon means particularly high ‘spring’ tides and with the extra moonlight as well it would be worthwhile sacrificing some sleep at night for more food.”

Whether one chooses to believe in the pull of the moon or the simple need to fend off hunger, there is no doubt that the full moon has a variety of impacts on humans.

Other scientific studies that have pursued the impact of the full moon have shown that it is linked to higher levels of anxiety and depression, as well as physical symptoms including gout and bladder problems.

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