The Lunar Effect: Does a full moon really have an impact on human behavior?

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Monday’s November 14, 2016 super moon as captured by photographer Greg Kretschmar.

On Monday, millions of people around the globe went outside to observe the super moon. Armed with their smartphones and camera equipment, the super moon quickly became a trending topic as people shared their captured photos of this phenomenon. A super moon is the occurrence of a full moon during a time when it’s orbit is close to the earth’s atmosphere. During this most recent time, the moon was just 221,525 miles from earth making this the closest the moon has been to earth since 1948.

Monday’s brightly lit moon reminds us of an age-old superstition, does the super moon affect human behavior? This superstition has been around for thousands of years and is known as the lunar effect. Today, much of the superstition lies in the medical field. Some speculations are that a full moon may increase hospital admissions, emergency room visits, psychotic behaviors, trauma & blood loss. Others theorize that the lunar effect may induce pregnancy labor or have an impact on the rate of death in hospitals. It is not only the common population who believes in this theory, but medical professionals.

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Social media meme that may be shared among nurses who believe in the lunar effect.

The Today Show discusses this trend among medical professionals. Social media has also proven that this is a common thought process. For those working in the medical profession, or know of others, you may see Facebook or Twitter comments regarding the phenomenon. The question still begs, with so many people believing in the lunar effect, is there any truth to it?

A study in 2014 out of ISRN Emergency Medicine magazine looked at the effects of the full moon on psychiatric emergency departments. It found that while the opinions that emergency department personnel felt that a full moon results in an increased demand in patient services that very little research is available to confirm this. Two doctors of medicine, Templer & Veleber are often cited as finding links between full moon and suicides, homicides, crime rate and hospital stays. However, this study was conducted in 1980 which today leaves it as being 36 years old and since then, flaws have been discovered in the research methods. Although this study is commonly cited as confirming that the full moon has these effects, the M.D.’s concluded that there is no correlation and that the lunar effect is mostly folklore.

Popular social media news source, Buzzfeed, shares some theories on the lunar effect exploring fact and fiction.

The video confirms that doctors believe that nights of a full moon cause more activity in the hospital setting. It speculates that the reason that this might happen is because the brain is wired to remember “events” over “non-events”; just as one may remember your 16th birthday over any average day. The thought is that if strange behaviors occur during a full moon, you are more likely to remember them.

The Buzzfeed video also looks at the opinions that a full moon has ties to mental health. This is an opinion that has been going on since the Middle Ages. During these times we did not have artificial light. The folklore may have developed because sleep deprivation can effect a person’s mental functions. A recent study was conducted in 2013 in India looked at this aspect of the lunar cycle. It found that of the participants, the average amount of sleep lost during a full moon was 21 minutes. Many thoughts are on the fact that this may be related to the added light that the full moon provides.

This video explores the full moon’s effect on sleep loss. They speculate that there is an extra effect from the full moon beyond the added light. They reference a Switz study where individuals were found to sleep better during new moons (where the moon is not present in the sky), and full moons. This study was conducted in 2003 and was not originally conducted to look at the link between the moon and human sleep patterns. Despite this, another study was conducted last year following the sleep patterns of 201 individuals. Although there were slight results in the REM Cycle (Rapid Eye Movement or Deep Sleep stage of sleep), the study showed inconclusive results that the lunar cycle had any effect on the human sleep cycle.

The moon has always been one of our biggest mysteries. We raced to the moon in 1969. We have looked to it for it’s wonder since the beginning of human history. It is no wonder that it has driven us to study in great depth. Despite all of this, it is difficult to draw conclusions. Is it the moon, or is it what we believe the moon brings us? This is our unsolved question, and it proves to be an unsolvable one yet. Our best bet is to be aware that the full moon, although mysterious, does not have enough proven evidence when it comes to practical medicine.

 

 

References

8 Facts about tonight’s ‘biggest and brightest supermoon’ (2016, November 14). Retrieved November 16, 2016, from http://www.itv.com/news/central/2016-11-14/8-facts-about-the-biggest-and-brightest-supermoon/

Chakraborty, U. (2013). Effects of different phases of the lunar month on humans. Biological Rhythm Research, 45(3), 383-396. doi:10.1080/09291016.2013.830508

Effects of lunar phase on sleep in men and women in Surrey. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2016, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26096730

Parmar, V. S., Talikowska-Szymczak, E., Downs, E., Szymczak, P., Meiklejohn, E., & Groll, D. (2014). Effects of Full-Moon Definition on Psychiatric Emergency Department Presentations. ISRN Emergency Medicine, 2014, 1-6. doi:10.1155/2014/398791

Templer, D.I. and Veleber, D.M. (1980) The moon and madness: A comprehensive perspective. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, 36, 865-868.

 

4 thoughts on “The Lunar Effect: Does a full moon really have an impact on human behavior?”

  1. Kelly-
    I really enjoyed reading your blog post, it was very informative and interesting to read. Even when I didn’t work in health care, I always found around the time of a full moon to be very difficult to work with the public. In my personal opinion I think that working with the public during these times is worse, people have a worse of an attitude and aren’t as patient during this time. I wonder, if this could be because for years people have always believed this myth that they automatically act different during this time, since from your research there isn’t enough evidence to tell if it is true or not. I also like how you said “The thought is that if strange behaviors occur during a full moon, you are more likely to remember them,” this is important to note because maybe this is why people act the way they do during the full moons. Overall, I really enjoyed reading your blog and watching the videos, I learned a lot from it!

    -Amanda

  2. Kelly,
    This was very interesting to read. I have worked in the ER for almost 8 years now and it could not be more true regarding the relationship between a full moon and ER staff’s perception of what that will mean for a night in the ER. We immediately relate a full moon to making for a busy, chaotic night but in reality, is it truth or coincidence? It was actually interesting to read your blog and see how you directly related medical professional researched input and also just generalized beliefs. I think your blog does a good job addressing all audience levels and also attempting to address a topic that does not yet have enough solid evidence for an answer to the mystery of the moon and it’s effects on humans and their behaviors. You did a great job explaining all angles with research and also general views. Thanks, Kelly!

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