Full moon study fulfills expectations so TIME jumps on it

Time (and other sources) took this one set of results with a small sample size and went all gung-ho on it because it confirms what the common perception is – that the full moon affects it physically. I will withhold judgement, especially since there is no mechanism for such an effect and the data is not strong.

Sleeping During a Full Moon: Why It’s Hard | TIME.com.

People have long reported that it is harder to get to sleep and remain asleep when the moon is full, and even after a seemingly good night’s rest, there can be a faint sluggishness—a sort of full-moon hangover—that is not present on other days. If you’re sleeping on the prairie or in a settler’s cabin with no shades, the simple presence of moonlight is an inescapable explanation. But long after humans moved indoors into fully curtained and climate-controlled homes, the phenomenon has remained. What’s never been clear is whether it’s the real deal—if the moon really does mess with us–or if it’s some combination of imagination and selective reporting, with people who believe in lunar cycles seeing patterns where none exist. Now, a report in the journal Current Biology suggests that the believers have been right all along.

Whoa… not so fast. I know you want to confirm what people have thought “all along” but this research has limitations.

The study was of 33 people over three years. Variables were measured: brain wave activity during sleep as measured by electroencephalograms (EEG); levels of melatonin, a sleep-related hormone; the amount of time it took subjects to fall asleep and the amount of time they spent in deep sleep; and their subjective reports of how rested they felt the next day. That’s not a big study.

The moon phase was not one of the variables measured in the study until it was plugged in years later. The effects seem small – a five minute average delay in falling asleep during the full moon and a shorter sleep span by 20 minutes, melatonin levels and EEG activity fell. Patients reported less refreshed. But there were flaws in the study. I can’t see them because I don’t have the paper but it’s worthwhile to remain cautious about this result. There is no mechanism to account for why this would happen. Gravity doesn’t account for it, in an indoor setting with people not paying attention to the moon phases, we can’t account for it by sight. So, I’m inclined to say it needs to be clarified better. And repeated.

I’ve looked at the history of full moon manias and as much as people SWEAR the moon phase affects people in bad ways, the data shows IT DOES NOT. Even if it did, in a tiny way, for a few people, the myths about crazies coming into the emergency rooms on full moon nights is utterly unfounded.

I must have been disputed on this fact a half dozen times after I have corrected people when they said “must be a full moon!” “Uh, no it’s not, and that’s a myth.” But they refuse to accept it. The moon is forever associated with lunacy, werewolves and bad behavior. One person with facts isn’t going to change the mind of the true believer.

lunar effects (full moon) The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com.

Strange Things Do Happen at Full Moon | LiveScience.

[R]esearchers Ivan Kelly, James Rotton, and Roger Culver, in their study “The Moon was Full and Nothing Happened” (published in the book “The Hundredth Monkey and Other Paradigms of the Paranormal,” 1991) examined more than 100 studies of alleged lunar effects and found no significant correlation between phases of the moon and disasters, homicide rates, etc. Furthermore, there is no known mechanism by which the moon would somehow influence a person’s mind to make him more dangerous—except of course for his own expectations.

  7 comments for “Full moon study fulfills expectations so TIME jumps on it

  1. Chris
    July 25, 2013 at 10:44 PM

    It does affect my sleep. But that is because the bedroom has some high windows without curtains the light of the full moon will shine upon the pillows (and into my eyes). I usually just have to roll over.

    Due to a silly design idea (of mine) the bedroom also had skylights. When it rained if sounded like we were inside of a drum. They were removed.

  2. July 26, 2013 at 1:38 AM

    The power of the full moon is almost certainly a myth with origins going right back to the days of our very early ancestors, so it is very deeply embedded in our culture. Like all the other myths it is just that.

  3. July 26, 2013 at 8:21 AM

    “There is no known mechanism by which the moon would somehow influence a person’s mind to make him more dangerous” — Well, there’s this interesting (and completely down to earth) hypothesis about the time when people used what natural light there was, and stayed awake much longer when the moonlight allowed them to.


  4. July 26, 2013 at 11:00 AM

    Whether the moon is full, half, or quarter should make no difference. It’s just reflected light and the entire moon is still there. If you can get away from city lights, you can see the old moon “cradling the new moon in it’s arms” and vice versa.

    There is no reason why reflected light would cause anything, other than what Chris said – it can be harder to sleep with that much light in one’s eyes.

  5. John R. Ellis
    July 26, 2013 at 5:37 PM

    Saw a link to this on one of the Skeptic Communities (InkZone) on G+. The belief in Full Moon influence is widespread, even if the data to support such influence is minimal. However, much like that even retired people are more likely to have heart attacks on Monday mornings, it is possible that the full moon causes just a slightly increased anxiety level for some people who fear the effect, even subconsciously. This could result in such slight effects on sleep onset, depth, and total sleep time – as reported. Sort of a Full Moon Nocebo Effect on sleep.

  6. skyweek
    July 28, 2013 at 2:14 PM

    Having read the actual paper I came to the same conclusion as John Ellis: http://skyweek.wordpress.com/2013/07/28/schlechter-schlaf-bei-vollmond-einige-fragen – such a (likely) “full moon nocebo” bias seems to be the most likely explanation for the (weak in any case) statistical effect.

  7. August 2, 2013 at 8:20 AM

Comments are closed.