Full Moon May Shorten Sleep But Don’t Blame It For Behavior, Study Says

Western society has been blaming crazy behavior on the full moon for centuries. The words “loony,” “lunatic,” and “lunacy” in fact, stem from luna, the Latin word for moon. A recent research study shows that while it may take away a little bit of sleep, the facts don’t back up the claim of hyperactive behavior that has been linked with the coming of the full moon through folklore.

The study on the effects of the full moon was performed by researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute in Ottawa, Canada, and was published in the journal Frontiers in Pediatrics. Previous studies on adult sleep patterns as related to the full moon were inconclusive. Children were chosen for the study because the researchers believed they would be more susceptible to any such influence than adults.

Researchers looked to find a link between the full moon and levels of both sleep and activity. Researchers used data from 5,812 children from countries on all the inhabited continents, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Finland, India, Kenya, Portugal, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The children were between the ages of 9 and 11 and specialized instrumentation was used to measure the amount of sleep they received each night.

Full moon equals a little less sleep

The results indicated that while activity levels remained the same during the phases of the full moon, half moon, and new moon, (when the moon disappears from the sky before reappearing as a crescent,) the children got about five minutes less sleep during the full moon period. That figure represents about 1 percent of their average sleep time – an amount that researchers acknowledge is of questionable significance.

Rather remarkably, however, the same five minute discrepancy in sleep time existed in children across all 12 of the countries involved in the study.

While the link was evident, its cause was not. Researchers speculated that the brightness of the sky under a full moon might be one of the reasons.

Full moon not linked to hyperactive kids

On the flip side, the fact that levels of activity remained the same during the various moon phases does not support the age old parents’ tales of children becoming hyperactive around the full moon. Dr. Jean-Philippe Chaput from the Eastern Ontario Research Institute is quoted in Science Daily.

“Our study provides compelling evidence that the moon does not seem to influence people’s behavior. The only significant finding was the 1% sleep alteration in full moon, and this is largely explained by our large sample size that maximizes statistical power.”

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Full moon facts and mythology

The full moon has been blamed for many things, as noted in an article in Live Science, from the onset of epileptic seizures to insanity – or lunacy. Policemen, first responders, and emergency room staff tell tales of unusual happenings and crazy scenarios that only take place under a full moon.

The research study’s authors also note the long history of myths and beliefs associated with the full moon, including the classic werewolf legend. However, there are also real life examples in the animal world of creatures whose behavioral cycles are influenced by the moon, including the palolo worm which only reproduces during the moon’s last quarter.

While the study looked at levels of behavior, researchers recognized that some details may prove significant. In its conclusion, the study authors mention the need for more research to determine whether the full moon has a larger influence on some children – such as those with mental or physical disorders – than others.

“Whether there is science behind the myth or not, the moon mystery will continue to fascinate civilizations in the years to come.”

The full extent of the relationship between human biology and the full moon has yet to be deciphered.

[Image by Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images]