Girl, You Put the Luna in Lunatic: Full Moon Craziness

full moon

UNLESS YOU were barricaded in a windowless room somewhere earlier this week, you probably noticed the Super Moon on Sunday night. According to the 2014 Farmer’s Almanac, this latest one was called a “Full Sturgeon Moon” — apparently, like hurricanes, full moons have names. What you may have also noticed were some changes in your emotions and behaviors in the days just before and possibly even a few days after.

We’ve all seen or heard about links between the phases of the moon and behaviors and emotions before, whether it’s the many werewolf-themed movies or the weird lady next to you in line at the grocery store warning you about all of the “crazies” coming out on the nights of the full moon. Well, shame on you for judging her, because she’s not that off: the words “lunatic” and “lunacy” have origins in the word luna, meaning moon. The word “lunatic” first appeared in the 13th century and is defined as a person “affected with periodic insanity, dependent on the changes of the moon.” In Old French lunatique and lunage mean insane, in Late Latin lunatic means “moon-struck,” and in Old English lunatic literally means “moon-sick.”

Basically, the moon and crazy have been linked together for centuries. But is the weird lady at the grocery store more right than even she knows? Does a full moon prompt everyone to go a little nuts? As it turns out, she’s onto something.

In a 1978 book  by Arnold L. Lieber called Lunar Effect – Biological Tides and Human Emotions, Lieber set out to analyze data on the effects of lunar cycles on human emotions, aggressive behavior, and crime rates. After extensive analyses of data findings in physics, astronomy, biology, and psychology on human behavior and lunar astronomy, he found that the moon does not cause madness and crime… but that the repression of the moon’s gravitational influence, which is especially strong during a full moon, does bring about social tension, disharmony, and bizarre results. Using a theory of biological tides, he found that the force of gravity can be shown to interact with the forces of human evolution and behavior. He deduced that gravity directly influences the human nervous system and may make people more irritable or sluggish depending on individual receptivity. He also noted that “people with unstable personalities and mood disorders or those who are already under stress may experience social consequences and excessive cosmic influence. If such persons are violence prone, they may be compelled into uncontrollable behavior.” The most interesting findings? “The werewolf legend and the theories of astrology may have some scientific basis, as revealed by correlations of police and fire department data with data from the Luna Ephemeris: San Francisco suicides and Florida homicides appear to be directly correlated with the appearance of the full moon.” Yikes.

That was several decades ago, so what about more recent findings?

In 2013, Christian Cajochen and his colleagues set out to publish findings on links between full moons and human behavior (they decided on their topic of research while sharing beers at a pub, if that ups your level of trust). They discovered that they already had the necessary data from a study at the Centre for Chronobiology at the University of Basil, where, between 2000 and 2003, they looked at the effect of the body clock on the sleep patterns off 33 volunteers. The volunteers were shut away from daylight for days at a time so that their sleep patterns would not be affected by the illumination of the sun… or a full moon. The study was a perfect double-blind experiment for the research, as the participants and organizers had no idea at the time that they were also researching the effects of a full moon. What they found was that the phase of the moon did affect human sleep patterns, even when the human could not see it. Electroencephalography (the recording of electrical activity along the scalp) showed that the participants slept an average 20 minutes less around the time of the full moon and that it also took them five minutes longer to get to sleep, their sleep quality was 30% lower than at other times, and their levels of melatonin were reduced.

Before it gets too bizarre, Dr. Cajochen stated that he does not think the changes were directly caused by the full moon. He points instead to the discovery of what he thinks is an additional hand on the “body’s clock-face.” He notes that there is an internal monthly cycle entrained to the moon that our bodies adhere to, just like they do with the sun. It’s also clear that the brightness of a full moon like the one we recently experienced might disrupt those who aren’t used to sleeping with a nightlight on.

So, there’s some scientific evidence to back up the effects of a full moon. And, considering the facts that a new one appears every 28.5 days, calendars have been built around moon cycles since late Paleolithic times (that’s 30,000 years ago) and that there’s another full moon on September 9th, you might want to consider the advice of astrologists to combat negative full-moon-related emotions: slowly expose yourself to the moon by gazing at at it for a few minutes each night leading up to the full moon.

Unless, of course, you’re a werewolf.

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