A popular urban legend is that accidents and other odd things happen more often during a full moon. While the evidence doesn’t bear that out, it’s likely people might sleep differently throughout different phases of the moon, a new study suggests.
As the moon’s brightness increases daily from a new moon to a full moon, the time that it reaches its highest point in the sky also shifts from noontime to near midnight. The reverse happens after a full moon, with brightness decreasing each night. A group of researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden examined people’s sleeping behavior during these changing phases of the moon.
They analyzed sleep pattern in order for 852 people from three previous, unrelated studies that assessed adult participants during one night of sleep.
The researchers found that study participants slept a little less on nights when the moon was waxing, or brightening, compared with waning.
The men, all from the same study conducted during 2016-2018, seemed more sensitive to the moon. They slept about 21 minutes less on waxing nights, whereas the women in the other two studies slept 12 minutes less. Men also tended to sleep less well on waxing nights and spent 14 extra minutes awake in the night after first falling asleep. Women experienced neither effect.
Although the researchers accounted for participant age and the season that they underwent their sleep tests, it’s important to note that the analysis is still based on a single night of sleep from each participant, with monitoring done at home. Also, the three studies took place at different times, from 2001 to 2004 and 2013 to 2015 for women and 2016 to 2018 for men. Much has changed during these years in terms of technology and social media use.
But the findings still hint that the moon could have subtle effects on human sleep. Moonlight is a reflection of sunlight, which affects levels of melatonin, a hormone that signals nighttime and sleep time. Previous studies have found lower melatonin and men’s testosterone levels during full moons and higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol during full moons.When we can’t sleep, there are many possible culprits, and researchers are adding a new one that many haven’t considered before: the LED lightbulbs we switch on after dark.
The human eye detects sunlight as white, but in reality, it contains the spectrum of colors, and different parts of this range dominate at different times of day. In daylight, cells at the back of our eyes detect bright sun, in which blue light dominates. In response, these cells signal the body to produce hormones and other chemicals that support being awake and alert. In the waning evening light, as blue tones die down, the same cells set the rhythm of our night, preparing us for sleep.
Or they would, if we didn’t flick our light switches on and saturate our space with blue light in the evenings.
The culprits are the light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs that many people buy because they use less energy and last longer than conventional bulbs. The trade-off could involve our health, and some studies suggest that prolonged blue light exposure could be linked to everything from cataracts to insomnia and mood disorders.
But researchers at the University of Houston may have found a way for us to save energy and our eyesight and sleep.
They’ve urbanized an LED bulb that has a chip that emits light in the less health-disruptive violet range. Special materials in this chip absorb this violet light energy and change it, leading the bulb to emit what looks like the soft glow of evening to human eyes. The human brain responds with signals that sleepy time is future.
The light from these violet LEDs still includes some emissions in the blue range, which doesn’t need to be blocked entirely. Researchers hope that the violet LED version will lead to better sleep, according to a short podcast from the National Science Foundation, which funded the work. But the chip materials that absorb the light energy still need some tweaking before they will be available to illuminate our lives.Many people with chronic insomnia turn to medications for release. You have many options to choose from, including prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
It’s important to use these medications wisely, and under a doctor’s care. They’re not right for everyone. They may have side effects, and some can be addictive if you don’t use them properly. Most insomnia medications aren’t meant to be used for a long time.
But in some cases, they can be a good short-term solution to help you get some rest.
See Your Doctor First
When you have insomnia, your first step should be to make an appointment with your doctor. They’ll ask about your sleep habits and may run tests to find out if another health issue is interfering with your sleep. They may advise you on good sleep habits, or refer you to another doctor to treat any medical conditions that may be contributing to your insomnia.
Before trying medicine, sleep experts suggest that you start with cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). There’s less chance of side effects or dependency. And you’ll learn strategies that can be helpful for longer.
CBT-I helps you spot thoughts and behaviors that make insomnia worse, and swap them for ones that encourage better sleep. It may teach you better sleep habits, relaxation techniques, and more.
“Research shows that CBT for insomnia is as effective as sleep medication in the short term and more effective in the long term, so you’re getting an overall more effective treatment that can be more sustained,” says Annie Miller, a behavioral sleep medicine therapist at DC Metro Sleep and Psychotherapy in Bethesda, MD.
But it takes time and effort for CBT-I to work. If insomnia is badly disrupting your daily life, or if you’re losing sleep because you’re going through a sad or stressful time, your doctor may decide that medication will help.
Prescription Sleep Medicines
In choosing a sleep aid, your doctor will consider your health, age, other medical conditions, and other medications you’re taking. You may have to try more than one drug before finding one that works for you.
Your doctor should discuss your options before writing a prescription. A generic version could save you money. If you have health insurance, find out whether your provider covers insomnia medications and if there are restrictions on them.
Prescription drugs for insomnia include:
Benzodiazepines: This older class of drugs makes you drowsy by slowing your central nervous system. Although doctors still prescribe it, they usually start with newer drugs first. That’s because benzodiazepines have the potential to be addictive, and you can quickly build a tolerance to them.
Z Drugs: These newer medication (dubbed “Z” drugs because the names of the drugs contain this letter) work in a similar way to benzodiazepines. The major differences: fewer side effects, and you’re less likely to become dependent. But the FDA warns that, in rare cases, people taking these drugs may sleepwalk or perform other “complex sleep behaviors” while not fully awake.
Orexin receptor antagonists: This newer class of drug helps you fall asleep by lowering the amount of orexin your brain makes. Orexin is a chemical “messenger” that helps keep you awake.
Antidepressants: One side effect of antidepressant drugs is they can make you feel sleepy. But experts generally don’t suggest you take them for this purpose. The FDA has approved only one antidepressant for insomnia, called doxepin.
Melatonin receptor agonist: This instruction drug, ramelteon, imitates the hormone melatonin. Your body makes melatonin to help regulate your sleep-wake cycle. It doesn’t work for sleep maintenance insomnia, the kind where you have trouble staying asleep.
Over-the-Counter Sleep Aids
Like prescription drugs, over-the-counter sleep aids can interact with other medications. They may not be right for people with sure health circumstances. So always check with your doctor before using one.