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Lunar Cycle 1: Moon Tides
Recently, I had an unusually disrupted, disorganised day. With one thing after another going a bit sideways, I thought “What the hell is going on today? I wonder if it’s a full moon”. That night, I looked out to see that, yes, there was indeed a fully round bright disc in the sky!
While each phase of the lunar cycle has its own particular influence, the full moon effect tends to be most obviously heightening and disruptive, with increased likelihood of extreme behaviours, unexpected dramas & accidents, and other weird ‘goings-on’.
Phrases like “it must be a full moon” or “strap your boots on cos it’s a full moon tonight” were often heard in my previous hospital job where, over 15 years, the slightly-more-odd-ball nature of emergency department presentations at the full moon became quite apparent. This relationship is recognised by many members of different emergency services, who are effectively at the ‘front line’ regularly enough to see the pattern.
Belief in the moon’s influence on our experience has continued through history, in all cultures, and is still attested to by the experience and observations of individuals today. Modern scientific research in this area, however, has provided contradictory results. Many studies show clear patterns in human and animal behavior over the 29.5 day lunar cycle, while many others conclude that the moon has no effect.
I personally prefer to rely on the evidence of my own experience. It confirms to me a cycle of lunar influence, both on physiology and on the more subtle energy field, which combine to affect mood, perception and behaviour, to differing degrees, in different people (and animals), at different times of year.
By what means this influence occurs is a question with no clear answer.
The contradictory research outcomes need to be considered in view of the different pathways by which the moon might exert its influence, from the changing brightness of moonlight over the lunar cycle, to other forms of radiation it might send our way, as well as its magnetic and gravitational forces, whose effect is most obviously seen in the ocean’s shifting tides.
The strength or weakness of these influences is further affected by variations in the orbital movements and positions of the moon, earth and sun, in relation to one another. Some of these positional relationships repeat daily, while others repeat only monthly or annually, and yet others repeat only once in about 19 years.
The difference between high and low tide (the rise & fall of sea level) is most extreme when the gravitational forces of both the sun and moon strengthen one another, around the time of the full moon and new moon, but the moon’s gravitational pull is about 23% stronger at full moon than at the new moon, creating a greater influence at that time. The whole situation is further amplified around the equinoxes, when the sun is closest to the earth, revealing an annual cycle which influences how the monthly cycle plays out.
When you consider all the possible combinations, between ‘type of effect’ and ‘strength of effect’, that this wide range of factors could create in any given month, it’s unlikely that this mystery will ever be fully unraveled by our limiting research methods, which tend to rely on ‘all things being equal’, at all times, for repeatable outcomes.
Cultural observation of the moon’s tidal effects in oceans and large lakes has led some people to assume that lunar influence on humans is through the high water content in our bodies. However, the moon’s gravitational and tidal influences are also revealed in observation of atmospheric tides at very high altitudes (where weather can’t interfere with measurements), and terrestrial tides which cause the earth’s crust to shift and ‘breathe’ rhythmically.
Understanding this, one can logically conclude that nothing on the planet (including humans) is exempt from lunar influence, even if we can’t define exactly how it might manifest.
Many aspects of human and animal physiology & behavior show clear circadian (daily) rhythms, and also show more subtle seasonal changes. So, there is no reason to assume that our body-clocks would not also entrain with lunar triggers like moonlight and orbital flow.
Many animal species do, in fact, display behavior patterns entrained to the moon cycle, like aquatic worms only reproducing in the last quarter of the moon cycle, male mockingbirds singing territorially only around the full moon, insects swarming in greater numbers at the new moon, and female frogs being less fussy about choice of mate at the full moon.
Even plants exhibit a lunar influence, with some coming into flower or releasing pollen at the full moon, and many displaying changes in fluid flow which align with the daily tides.
Moon-related shifts in hormones and behaviour have also been found in humans, through research into sleep, reproduction and mood.
Full moonlight is 250 times brighter than that from the stars alone (just before the new moon appears).
At this dark (new) moon, peak levels of the sleep hormone melatonin are at their highest, causing people to sleep for slightly longer, and more deeply, at this time.
By the time the full moon comes around, melatonin levels have gradually reduced to their lowest point in the cycle. At this time, people tend to take longer to fall asleep, have an average sleep length which is about 20 minutes shorter than usual, spend less time in deep sleep and more time dreaming, and are likely to have more ‘bizarre’ dreams than usual.
These effects cannot be attributed solely to the incidental experience of direct moonlight which, at the full moon, is bright enough to reduce melatonin production through its trigger of light-sensitive cells in the eyes. People display similar patterns without ‘seeing’ moonlight, in sleep labs and indoors with curtains drawn, as well as when the full moon is clouded over, suggesting that this lunar melatonin rhythm is entrained in human body-clocks.
The moon’s various pathways of influence are subtle, and research is further confounded by individual susceptibility and life circumstances. For example, the direct impact of moonlight on melatonin levels will not be experienced as strongly by someone living in a city which is brightly lit at night, all month round, compared with someone living in a more remote area where the shifting intensity of moonlight is more visibly experienced.
As for the push and pull of the moon’s intangible influences, these tend to have a more obvious effect on those of a receptive, ‘flowy’ nature (sensitive, intuitive, creative, emotional, or ungrounded), compared with a more ‘structurally organised’ personality (grounded, practical-minded, intellectual, or strong-willed). Neither of these natural leanings is preferential to the other, as both have their gifts and weakness, but each will have a different kind of relationship with the moon’s mysterious tides.
As a gender group, women tend to lean more towards the receptive side and men more towards the practical, and statistically more women than men show measurable lunar effects, probably for this reason.
The female menstrual cycle, on average, lasts 28-30 days like the lunar cycle and, traditionally, the two were very closely aligned. The peak of the female cycle, ovulation (release of egg for potential fertilization), occurs around the full moon and, with no fertilization, the release (menstruation) occurs around the dark (new) moon. This cycle is also linked with shifting levels of melatonin which, when higher (at dark moon) suppress the reproductive hormones that encourage follicle development and ovulation.
The high degree of variation in the menstrual cycles of modern women can be attributed to more immediate hormone influences (food hormone additives, contraceptives, artificial lighting and shift-work), which effectively disrupt the natural rhythm. Before industrialization, these would not have been a factor, and women currently living in areas where the ‘modern impact’ is reduced still show a more consistent alignment to the lunar rhythm.
Such disruption in natural reproductive behavior is also evidenced in many different animal species living in and around cities where the consistent nightly artificial light glow prevents them from experiencing the subtle shifts in moonlight intensity which provide important body clock cues.
Men experience a monthly cycle as well, marked by the rise and fall of testosterone levels which peak mid-cycle, enhancing sperm potency and sexual desire at this time (similar to female ovulation). While not as obvious as the female cycle, men may also experience associated mood shifts, with slight weight gain and feelings of apathy or indifference when testosterone is at its low, and more energy for action and a greater sense of wellbeing when it reaches the high point.
Before the advent of artificial lighting, one can imagine a long history of relying on moonlight as the primary source of light at night. Over the dark moon period, you can’t see a hand in front of your face, so people would have been more likely to withdraw to bed, both for practical reasons and with the sleep-encouragement of higher melatonin levels. At times when full moonlight offered a highly visible nightscape, people would have continued social activities long after sunset and, with lower melatonin levels, also had more urge to do so.
It makes sense, from an evolutionary perspective, that social activity and reproductive readiness would align, creating the highest potential for successful conception, and that human and animal genetic clocks would gradually come to embody this rhythm. Male-female hormone cycle alignment is evident in many animal species and I suspect that, under natural conditions, the human male & female cycles would also align with one another, and with the lunar cycle, for peak potency around the full moon.
Lunar influences on mood & behaviour are most easily recognized around the full moon, when ‘extreme’ is the keyword, both in the moon’s energetic dynamic as well as in human & animal behaviours.
At the dark moon, we tend to be drawn into ourselves and our bodies, retaining a stronger self-awareness of our choices and behaviours, and the consequences of these in our practical life experience. The full moon, on the other hand, tends to draw us out of ourselves, into the realms of creativity and imagination, and into the social world. Around this time, the experience is less analytical and more emotionally responsive, with reduced impulse-control.
This kind of head-space may simply lead to a slight exacerbation of existing mood issues, which are normally well managed. Or it may lead to more impulsive choices and behaviours, with disturbing consequences.
The exacerbation of mental-emotional issues cannot be attributed fully to the minor sleep disruption at full moon, as some would claim, although the disrupted sleep and more bizarre dreams do attest to the full moon’s effect of drawing us into a more ‘random’ head-space.
Research into the lunar cycle has also revealed a variety of other full-moon related extremities, such as a statistical increase in criminal activities, an increased tendency to indulge in drugs or alcohol (with all associated under-the-influence activities that may entail), and the likelihood of more aggressive and violent outbursts. This latter loss of impulse-control was found in animals as well, with the incidence of animal bites to humans increasing significantly around the full moon.
On a positive note, researchers found a decrease in absenteeism around the full moon, compared to the rest of the cycle. This may be attributed to increased alertness and energy around this time. One could also extrapolate many other positive influences of the full moon’s creative pull, from things like inspired inventions and suddenly finding a solution for a sticky problem, to feeling more-sensitive-than-usual towards another’s suffering, or finally letting yourself have a good cry which had been bottled up for weeks.
My next blog will explore each phase of the lunar cycle in more detail, and look at how you can apply these dynamics to enhance your life experience.
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