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Full Moon Madness: Why Humans Still Experience Bad Sleep During Peak Lunar Cycles

Update Date: Jul 25, 2013 04:32 PM EDT

Feeling particularly exhausted this week? You're probably not the only one.

Scientists have now confirmed that the eerie old wives tale of moonstruck madness may actually be real.

Many people complain about poor sleep around the full moon, and a new study published in the journal Current Biology, offers scientific evidence that suggests that this really is true.

Despite living in the modern world of cell phones, computers, planes and spaceships, new research suggests that humans experience bad sleep at the height of the lunar cycle because our bodies still respond to the geophysical rhythms of the moon.  Scientists explain that this phenomenon may be proof that we are still driven by a circalunar clock, an internal biological clock that extends back to our cave dwelling days.

"The lunar cycle seems to influence human sleep, even when one does not 'see' the moon and is not aware of the actual moon phase," researcher Christian Cajochen of the Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Basel, said in a news release.

Cajochen and his team suggest that light sleep during the full moon may have help protect early human ancestors from predators hunting when the night sky is at its brightest.

The latest study involved 33 volunteers in two age groups. The participants' brain pattern patterns, eye movements and hormone secretions were monitored as they slept.

The findings revealed that around the time of the full moon, brain activity related to deep sleep dropped by 30 percent and participants took five minutes longer to fall asleep. The study also found that participants they slept for twenty minutes less overall. Participants also reported poorer sleep and showed diminished levels of melatonin, a hormone known to regulate sleep and wake cycles.

"This is the first reliable evidence that a lunar rhythm can modulate sleep structure in humans when measured under the highly controlled conditions of a circadian laboratory study protocol without time cues," researchers wrote in the study.

Researchers said the next step is to see if the moon has power over other aspect of human behavior, like cognitive performance and mood and to look deeper into the anatomical location of the circalunar clock and its molecular and neuronal underpinnings. 

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