What is lunar insomnia?

Ellen Lees
By Ellen Lees,
updated on Jun 3, 2023

What is lunar insomnia?

Is it folklore, or can the moon affect us more than we realise?

Struggling to fall asleep can be incredibly frustrating. The rest of the house is enjoying the land of nod, and yet, no matter how tired you feel, you can’t get your brain to switch off, leaving you tossing and turning for what feels like hours.

For many of us, this will only happen occasionally – often during periods of high stress. But what about the times when life is going fine? What about when it’s not a constant problem – just a troublesome night or two every month? Have you ever considered that these periods of sleeplessness could be due to the full moon?

Now, some of you may be rolling your eyes, but experiencing issues with sleep during the full moon is surprisingly common. ‘Lunar insomnia’ is actually the term coined by those who experience sleep disturbances during particular phases of the moon and lunar cycle.

And, while it could be a coincidence that these restless nights occur during a full moon, the impact the moon can have on the world (most notably the tides and the behaviour of animals) is not unknown. So is it so hard to believe that this can have an impact on people, too?

Does lunar insomnia exist?

It may sound like folklore, but there could be something to it. While research is limited, there are studies that suggest the moon has a direct impact on our sleep.

One study in particular, published in Current Biology in 2013, saw a group of researchers looking into the variations of sleep during lunar phases. Using electroencephalographic (EEG) activity during non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM) sleep – an indicator of deep sleep – and monitoring the secretion of hormones melatonin and cortisol, they found that in the days leading up to and after a full moon, it took participants an extra five minutes to fall asleep. Findings also showed that participants’ levels of deep sleep fell by 30% during this time, while their total sleep duration was reduced by 20 minutes.

Of course, there is the argument that a full moon is generally much brighter than normal, which can have a direct impact on our ability to sleep. This study, however, was conducted in a controlled environment. Sleep structures were recorded retrospectively, and participants’ knowledge of the lunar phase was restricted.

Another more recent study, published in Science Advances in 2021, and perhaps the most extensive on the subject, revealed that the duration of a person’s sleep is reduced in the week preceding a full moon, regardless of location and exposure to artificial light. In this case, researchers analysed the sleep patterns of two groups: those living in rural settings with and without access to electricity, and those living in highly urbanised postindustrial settings.

When is the next full moon?

For when you want to be prepared, here is a list of the remaining full moons gracing our skies in 2023.

. Sunday 4 June – this is a Super Strawberry Moon, which appears bigger and brighter due to the proximity to Earth in its orbit.

. Monday 3 July

. Tuesday 1 August

. Thursday 31 August – this will be a Blue Moon. Yes, the one from the saying! This is when there are two full moons in one month (only occurring once every two to three years!)

. Friday 29 September

. Saturday 28 October

. Monday 27 November

. Wednesday 27 December

Fact or fiction

There are those who believe lunar insomnia is simply a placebo effect. All of us will struggle to sleep at times, and, while it’s a common experience, it’s also normal for us to want an explanation for things not going the way we planned. The occasional bad night’s sleep is to be expected, but, as humans, we like to have an answer so that we can resolve the problem. This can mean that the moon – and other external factors – can be put to blame.

So, while only a handful of studies have been conducted, findings indicate that the various phases of the lunar cycle do indeed have some impact on us – whether it be physically or emotionally – due to the brighter night skies, or some unknown magic. Perhaps we even bring it on ourselves, noticing a full moon and assuming we will have a bad night’s rest.

We may never know the true, full power of the moon, and how much you want to believe is up to you. But if you find yourself struggling with sleep, perhaps the answer is shining just outside your window.

Tips to improve sleep during a full moon

If you do believe the moon plays a big part in your lunar insomnia (or even if you don’t), there are a few things you can do to ensure a more restful night...

Be careful not to eat too much close to bedtime

If you’re still feeling full from dinner when you settle into bed, you’ll not only be uncomfortable and therefore less likely to fall asleep, but, depending on what you ate, you’re at risk of a spike in blood sugar and energy levels. Not the best pairing for when you’re trying to get some shut-eye!

Be wary of caffeine and nicotine

You’ll likely already know to avoid caffeine too close to bedtime (many suggest having your last cup of coffee no later than 3pm), but nicotine is also a stimulant, so has a similar effect on our bodies and can keep us up at night.

Keep your bedroom cool

The optimum temperature for the room you sleep in is thought to be between 16°C and 18°C. Lower your central heating overnight during the winter months, and perhaps open a window in the warmer seasons.

Create a comfortable environment

Think temperature controlled duvet (or lower and higher tog for the varying seasons), low lighting, and lavender sleep sprays. If you can, invest in a comfortable mattress. When you can’t get comfortable in bed, you won’t get a good night’s sleep.

Make use of blackout blinds, curtains, or even a sleep mask

The excess light from the full moon could well be contributing to your sleep disturbance. If you suspect this is keeping you awake, taking the steps to reduce this can help you to fall asleep quicker, and sleep through the night.

Step away from technology

It’s suggested that we put away our phones and other electronics at least one hour before bed. The blue light in these devices is said to interfere with the body’s natural circadian rhythm, preventing us from falling asleep. If you need something to help you settle, why not pick up a book?

Set intentions

The full moon is the peak of the lunar cycle, which is why many of us feel emotionally heightened during this time. Take the full moon as an opportunity to get clear on what you want for the month ahead, and let go of what’s holding you back.

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