It can seem like weird things tend to happen during a full moon—just ask any labor and delivery nurse, psychiatric hospital worker, or teacher with 25 first-graders testing her patience. Anecdotes abound about the ways that lunar cycles affect everything from births to road rage to crime.
But what does science have to say about the moon's so-called magical powers? Could it really be responsible for the way we act and feel? We looked at studies and asked the experts and concluded that the answer is a resounding "maybe."
"The moon undoubtedly has an emotional effect," says Jean-Luc Margot, PhD, an astronomer at UCLA. "It's a beautiful celestial object that fills us with a feeling of awe, but that's about all it does to us." And yet some studies do suggest a connection between lunar phases and certain health conditions—but not for the reasons you might suspect. Curious? Read on to find out what the night sky could have in store for you. And then read up on the6 things Mercury in retrograde could mean for your health.
You toss and turn all night.
If you find yourself unable to catch a wink whenever there's a full moon, it may not be a coincidence. Research from Switzerland published in Current Biology found that people slept less, had poorer quality sleep, and took longer to fall asleep when the moon was full. They also had decreased melatonin levels, suggesting that the moon's brightness (not its magical powers) may have tamped down the body's sleep signals.
An attempt to replicate this study's results with a larger data set failed, according to a 2014 review in Current Biology, but a 2014 study published in Sleep Medicine also found that sleep clinic patients suffered poorer sleep during the full moon.
It's no accident that the word lunacy has its root in the Latin word for the moon, Luna. Legend has it that the full moon has triggered manic episodes for people affected by bipolar disorder and psychological distress for the sleep-deprived. But according to anarticle out of UCLA in the Journal of Affective Disorders, any changes in mood can be attributed to how the moon illuminated the night sky—thereby causing more periods of wakefulness and sleep deprivation—rather than a mystical power.
But just as the moon's brightness may fill us with awe (and rob us of sleep), its absence might contribute to our blues. One French study found that people commit suicide less frequently during the full moon than in the new moon cycle. And a German study found an ever so slight increase in non-violent suicide (think overdose) in men under 40 during a new moon.
But then again, an analysis of over 65,000 suicides in Austria over a 25-year period found no association with the phases of the moon.
The moon's gravitational pull is undoubtedly powerful. Just look at the tides. So it's logical to assume that it will influence the fluids flowing through our body, like blood, mucous, and brain chemicals. In fact, a 2004 study in the International Journal of Nursing Practice found that the number of hospital admissions related to gastrointestinal bleeding increased significantly during the full moon.
But, this year, Margot analyzed the data in that study and found a number of statistical errors that discredited the results. He published his review of it in the journal Nursing Research.
"The truth is, the gravitational pull of somebody standing three feet away from you is 1,000 times stronger than the moon," he says. "There's no physical basis where we're affected by the moon."
And yet a 2013 study published in Interactive Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery looked at 210 instances of patients recovering from surgery that repaired a life-threatening tear in the aorta. The researchers found that the patients who had surgery during the full moon were 79% less likely to die than those who had surgery during the new moon. And, surgery during the full moon was associated with a shorter hospital stay.
But before you consult with a lunar chart to schedule your hospital visit, know that those 2 studies are in the minority. Most articles find no evidence that the moon regulates our biology.
A common folktale says there's an increase in births during the full moon. "A midwife told me there was a spike in deliveries when the moon is full," says Margot. "I told her that couldn't be and decided to look into the data." Researchers published a 5-year analysis of over 167,000 births in Phoenix and found no association between birth rates and the moon. Similarly, a German study looked at over 6,700 births and found no link between the moon and birth, delivery complications, or the sex of the baby.
"There's no evidence at all to support what my midwife friend told me," says Margot. "It may just be that when the moon is full, you notice it and expect a crazy night before entering the hospital. Whereas any other crazy night you don't notice the moon so you don't make that association."
An extensive body of research has asked if the full moon may lead to epileptic seizures. ABrazilian study published in Epilepsy & Behavior looked at sudden deaths from an epileptic seizure over eight years. It found 70% of the deaths occurred during the full moon. Another study published in the same journal found that the full moon had no effect on epileptic seizures, but was associated with an increase in non-epileptic seizures.
And then a 2013 investigation found that web-searches related to epilepsy increased 11% during the full moon. But then again, those web searches might not indicate actual seizures. The researchers suggest the moon's brightness leads to sleep loss, which keeps people up at night searching the web for information about anything in general. Similarly, a 2008 review of seizure data found that the increase disappears when there's cloud cover, suggesting the moon's brightness is the culprit, and not its phase.