During the rise of the current rare super blue blood moon, people took to social media to document their strange symptoms, including actress Busy Philipps, who spent last night sharing sleepless tweets and Instagram posts.
Scientists have shown time and time again that the phase of the lunar cycle on a given night affects how much we sleep, what kind of sleep we get and our moods the next day.
Why exactly this is the case is still as much a mystery to the experts as it is to the rest of us.
The super blue blood moon started putting on a show for much of the world last night, including parts of the US, where it was visible early this morning.
University of California, Berkeley professor and ‘sleep diplomat’ Dr Matt Walker explains what the insane super blue moon did to your dreams last night, your mood today, and how its effects are different for men and women.
The super blue blood moon rose over San Francisco, California early this morning, keeping many up into the wee hours, and disrupting moods
Busy Philipps was kept up late last night, posting on her Instagram that she was feeling ‘sensitive’ during the super blue blood moon and didn’t know why
On January 31, the lunar eclipse, blue moon and the super moon phases coincided.
The visual result – visible to the West Coast of the US in the early hours of this morning, and to people in Australia at moonrise – was a big, brilliant, burnt-red moon.
But the result for your rest may not have been so stellar.
‘Have you ever thought about what the term lunatic actually means? it comes from the notion that something happens, physiologically and mentally, to human beings during the full moon,’ says Dr Walker.
Our sleep patterns mirror the moon’s phases
On the night of a full moon, we get an average of 30 minutes less deep, dreamless sleep, while our best sleep tends to happen on the night of a half moon.
THE SUPER BLUE BLOOD MOON IS AN OVERLAP OF THREE MOON PHASES ON ONE NIGHT
Every 27.3 days, the moon makes an orbit around the Earth, creating a 29.3 day lunar cycle.
As it travels around the planet, its appearance to us looks a little different each night, depending on our location on Earth, the moon’s distance from us, and its position relative to both the Earth and Sun.
Each month, the moon moves through eight phases, beginning with a the new moon – when it is too relatively close to the sun in our night sky for any of the moon to be visible to us – and ending with the full moon, when the sun and the moon are on opposite sides of the earth, so the sun is brightly illuminating the moon’s entire face.
Lunar eclipses happen when the moon passes through the shadow of the earth, blocking it from reflecting the sun’s light, and sometimes giving it a reddish color that earns this moon the name ‘blood moon.’
Supermoons occur when the moon is closest to the earth in its orbit, making it look bigger.
Blue moons happen once every 2.5 years, when there is a second full moon in a calendar month, or a fourth in the season (so the third moon of a month that has four would be the ‘blue’ moon), though the color does not usually appear perceptively different.
‘Think about the shape of an “M,” but with the left and right sides a little shorter, and a big deep dip in the middle’ Dr Walker says.
Our sleep traces that pattern as we move from the new moon phase to the full moon phase.
‘We go from no moon – where sleep time is a little lower – to half moon – when our sleep time is at its peak – to then full moon, when deep sleep gets to its lowest point, then back to half moon,’ when we once again rest well, Dr Walker explains. The last super blue blood moon was in 1866, so there simply isn’t enough data to say how it might affect us differently, but Dr Walker speculates it is not too different from a full moon.
However, within a night’s rest, we go through several stages of sleep, and the moon has almost exactly opposite effects on these stages for men and women.
‘When you look at different types of sleep, it’s more complex,’ Dr Walker says.
Women get less sleep and more mood swings during full moons – and men have more dreams
During a full moon, everyone gets less deep, dreamless sleep, but the drop is much more dramatic for women.
But while women also see a drop in REM – rapid eye movement sleep, during which we dream – sleep, there is a spike of REM sleep for men during a full moon.
On average, there is an increase from 70 to 90 minutes of REM sleep, Dr Walker says, which ‘as a percent, is actually remarkable.’
Men especially ‘end up having a lot more REM sleep, which has been associated with mood and emotion regulation, and comes back to that term ‘lunatic,’ Dr Walker explains.
‘But there’s a wrinkle in that story…women [go] in the opposite direction,’ he says.
Women simply get less sleep overall when there is a full moon: less deep sleep, less REM sleep, just more light, unrefreshing sleep.
Sleep deprivation in general has a negative impact on mood, Dr Walker says. ‘When we’re tired, our emotions fluctuate more. Sleep resets the magnetic north of our consciousness,’ so for women, last night’s poor rest may be at fault for today’s unsteady emotional states.
Men, like women get less deep sleep, but their cumulative sleep times go up when the moon is at its peak size.
Hormonal changes during the full moon make us hungry
The full moon can knock our appetites out of whack, too.
During deep sleep, we produce more of a hormone called leptin, which helps us to feel full and satisfied. Meanwhile, grelin, which has the opposite, hunger-inducing effect, goes down.
‘When you lose deep sleep…you lose that satiety signal and gain the hungry signal,’ says Dr Walker.
There is little more you can do to control the lunar cycle’s effects on your body than there is you can do to control the moon. Since melatonin is the best candidate for causing they physical chaos, taking on tonight might help to set you straight in spite of the super blue blood moon.
So why does it happen?
The moon’s powerful effects on our sleep patterns still stump scientists
‘We have absolutely no idea. Isn’t that bloody fascinating?’ Dr Walker says. Data on the phenomenon ‘is really robust and replicable,’ but the mechanism has not been worked out.
The best working theories relate to the hormone melatonin, which is released in the brain to help us sleep.
‘We do know that something changes within the brain around the full moon, where melatonin drops down significantly, by about 50 percent,’ Dr Walker says.
Melatonin is released at night, and darkness is an important trigger to ‘release the brakes’ on melatonin.
Dr Walker says that an over-inundation of light – and deprivation of darkness – is in part to blame for our societal sleeplessness.
‘The full moon is light, so maybe is an evolutionary imprint of the lightness of the full moon to put the brakes on melatonin [and] fool the brain into thinking it’s still day,’ leading to our sleepless nights and mood swings, he speculates.