• The moon may affect other aspects of our health including sleep, brain, heart and menstrual cycles. (Getty Images)
For centuries, it’s been a popular scapegoat for bizarre behaviours and bad luck, everything from turning people into werewolves, to causing epilepsy and insanity. But is there any truth to the idea that the moon influences our health?
By
Nina Karnikowski

5 Feb 2016 - 11:36 AM  UPDATED 5 Feb 2016 - 12:56 PM

SLEEP

It’s not just the office hippy who complains about poor sleep around a full moon. One 2014 study published in the journal Current Biology showed that our sleep patterns are timed to lunar phases. According to the study, participants’ sleep time was reduced by 30 percent around a full moon; while the time taken to fall asleep increased by five minutes and total sleep decreased by 20 minutes.

“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,” said study co-author Christian Cajochen. The findings were said to be evidence of a biological "circalunar clock" synchronised with the moon cycles, in the same way our circadian clock helps us sync to the day-night cycle.

HEART

The moon may also protect our hearts, studies suggest. A 2013 German study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology recorded 16,000 heart surgery patients and found that significantly fewer attacks happened in the three days after a new moon.

Another 2013 study from the Cardiovascular Institute at Rhode Island Hospital, in which 210 heart surgery patients were tracked between 1996 and 2011, found the odds of dying following the procedure were significantly reduced during the waning moon. Also, people who underwent surgery during the full moon phase stayed in hospital for an average of 10 days, compared with 14 for those who had surgery during other phases of the lunar cycle.

BRAIN

Even if you haven’t said it, you’ve certainly heard someone say “it must be a full moon,” to explain weird happenings. A hangover, surely, from the 'Transylvania effect’ (or the ‘lunar lunacy effect’) which persisted in Europe through the Middle Ages, when the full moon was widely believed to morph humans into werewolves and vampires. But there could be some truth in it, according to a 2011 Dutch study of more than 5,400 patients, which showed that full moons were linked with a rise in emergency admissions of psychiatric patients. “In addition, a highly significant increase in the severity of illness and aggressive behaviors and agitation in the beginning and end of the moon cycles were noticed,” read the study’s conclusion.

Sydney psychologist Dr Lara Winten, however, believes that from a scientific point of view, evidence for the moon affecting our brains appears to be either “anecdotal, correlational, methodologically flawed or unreplicated.”

“These studies need to be understood in the context of one of science’s founding principles; that correlation doesn’t equal causation,” says Dr Winten. “Correlational results might also be the result of other sources of variance in study samples – not simply the lunar variable under consideration.”

MENSTRUAL CYCLES

The fact that the average menstrual cycle is 28 days, the same time it takes for the moon to travel around the earth in one lunar cycle, is “no coincidence” says midwife Bec Coddington. “In ancient times, it was thought that women all bled together on the dark moon and ovulated on the full moon, as the gravitational pull of the moon has an affect on our bodies, just as we can observe with the tides,” says Coddington.

This is supported by a 2011 study in the journal Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, which tracked the menstrual cycles of 826 16 to 25-year-old women. Nearly 30 percent had their period around the new (dark) moon, while the next biggest group menstruating during a certain phase of the moon was just 12.6 percent.

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