Does the Full Moon Affect Your Sleep? Here’s What Science Says
It’s not the conditions keeping you up – the room is cool and dark, and your partner has mercifully stopped snoring. You’re not particularly stressed about work or the kids or something you said (or didn’t say) to a high-school bully 20 years ago. You’ve even been exercising regularly, expending all that extra energy that’s powered you through an entire season of Schitt’s Creek in one night.
That’s when a friend or family member says they’re not sleeping either and helpfully drops into the group chat with an explanation: “must be the full moon”.
Is the moon to blame?
We humans are apt to look for explanations where there are none, and we love to blame the movements of the moon for everything from bad moods and break-ups to poor sleep and creepy coincidences.
But does the moon’s cycle – and, specifically, a full moon – actually disrupt or otherwise impact our sleep?
According to one study published by scientists from Switzerland’s Basel University in 2013, the small cohort of participants did take an average five minutes longer to fall asleep and slept for an average 20 minutes less than they did during other parts of the moon cycle. They also spent around 30% less time in the deep sleep we rely on for the healthy brain function that stores memories and allows us to recall information.
Researchers reasoned that disturbed sleep wasn’t a product of brighter light from the full moon (participants were shut in a purposely darkened room for the experiment), but rather the participants’ unconscious response to the “geophysical rhythms” of the moon.
“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,” Professor Christian Cajochen, the scientist leading the study, said. This spooky phenomenon is likely a throwback to days when moon cycles dictated how early humans lived and reproduced.
But it’s not all out of our control, either – the researchers also found it’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy in that our perception of sleep quality changes when a full moon rolls around.
Another paper published by scientists at universities in Washington, Connecticut, and Argentina earlier this year reinforced those findings, showing that human sleep cycles “oscillate” in accordance with a 29.5-day lunar cycle. They also observed that sleep quality is reduced – going to bed later, sleeping less – in the days leading up to the new moon.
But what’s interesting about his particular study is that its pool of participants comprised everyone from Indigenous communities living in northern Argentina to uni students living in populous cities like Seattle. The take-away? All of us are prone to a bad night’s sleep under a full moon, regardless of our access to electricity (and therefore light).
That said, the researchers did find the comforts and conveniences of modern life (read: blue light and endless scrolling) meant the effects were dampened in participants living in urban environments.
“We hypothesise 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,” lead author Leandro Casiraghi, a University of Washington postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Biology, said in a media release.
How can I get some sleep?
When it comes down to it, the science indicates our sleep is indeed impacted by some big evolutionary and cosmic forces. And a new moon rolls around every month or so, which – if you look at it optimistically – is a sign the world is still turning.
But that’s not particularly comforting when you just want to get some shut-eye.
It could be tempting to start obsessively monitoring the moon’s phases in a bid to pre-empt bad sleep in the lead up to a new moon’s arrival. But – if what we learned in that first study is true – awareness of the moon’s movements could actually alter your perception of the quality of the sleep you are getting for the worse.
Resist the temptation to check in on where the moon’s at if you’re struggling to sleep, and instead channel your energy into creating sleep conditions that give you the best shot at getting some quality shut-eye: avoid electronics, lower your lights, practice mindfulness or meditation, and invest in comfortable bedding. The rest is on the moon.