Do full moons and supermoons really influence people and animals?

By Chaffin Mitchell, AccuWeather staff writer

The moon’s effects date back to legends and mythology of ancient civilizations.

The full moon has been associated with strange or insane behavior, including suicide, sleepwalking and violence.

The lunar theory, otherwise known as the lunar effect, is the idea that there’s some correlation between moon cycles and human behavior.

Many people dismiss myths concerning the influence of the moon, but real effects are being found through science.

Lunacy linked to the moon

Lunacy and lunatic stem from luna, the Latin word for moon. It is believed that people were more likely to show erratic behavior during a full moon.

A publication on the National Criminal Justice Reference Service titled lunar effect- biological tides and human emotions, shows extensive analyses of data on human behavior. Lunar astronomy accurately indicated that the repression of the moon's gravitational influence brings about social tension, disharmony and bizarre results.

Another study looked at data over a 5-year period from police records in Florida, which showed an increase in cases of homicide and aggravated assault around full moons. 

The moon could affect our sleep patterns

Roughly three years ago, a study definitively showed that the moon’s phases affect human sleep.

In most of the sleep studies, research participants were not aware of the moon phase or time cues.

The largest full moon since 1948 is set to make an appearance in November 2016, however, biological clock researcher at the Max Plank Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Dr. Tobias Kaiser doesn’t think that will make much of a difference when it comes to sleep.

“The difference between a new moon and a full moon is much bigger than the difference between a full moon and a super full moon. So the really strong effects are present all the time,” Kaiser said.

Supermoon causes baby boom

The biggest supermoon will appear in November, and it could cause a baby boom.

Researchers followed 1,000 births in a hospital in Kyoto, Japan, where the mothers were not induced. Their study showed more babies were born when the moon was the closest to Earth, when the gravitational pull is the strongest.

According to theories that persist to this day, full moons cause a moon-induced baby boom.

The moon could be regulating menstrual cycles

“An effect of the moon on the menstrual cycle is controversial: Some studies show it, some refute it,” Kaiser said.

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In nature there are certain events that happen at an absolutely regular basis. The seasons have a yearly cycle, the moon phases 29.5 days, night and day 24 hours and the tides 12.4 hours.

A menstrual cycle has about the same length as the moon cycle, which is roughly a 29.5-day cycle.

Animals follow the moon’s time cues

Particularly in the sea, many organisms use the moon’s phases as their clock, called the circalunar clock. Animals show this through sleep patterns, synchronized reproduction and more.

Plants and animals possess these clocks to enable them to anticipate and be prepared for regular changes in their environments.

“Many other marine animals such as some crabs, sea-lice, worms and midges have been shown to exhibit moon-related and tide-related patterns of behaviour even when kept in laboratory aquaria away from the influence of tide and moon,” Emeritus Professor and author of the book Moonstruck: How lunar cycles affect life Ernest Naylor said.

That means organisms can predict lunar phases.

“Some animals on land, away from the influence of ocean tides, also show behaviors related to the moon, confirming that the linkage can be direct and is not always indirect through the effects of moon-generated tides,” Naylor said.

If a tiny organism is looking for a mate in the vast ocean, it is important they all look at the same time, he said. The moon’s light also plays a big role; many small animals are more active during the new moon phase, because they are less visible and have a lower chance to be eaten.

“From a scientific point of view the lunar effect on animals is obvious and absolutely uncontroversial,” Kaiser said.

Why so many skeptics?

Science is slowly showing moon myths hold some truth.

“Skepticism, no doubt, comes from awareness of historical myths and legends concerning supposed relationships between the human condition and lunar cycles,” Naylor said.

Possibly, the moon affected people and animals more before modern lighting. The light of a full moon kept people up at night, leading to sleep deprivation that could have caused other issues, according to one hypothesis. Regardless the moon does have an effect, but how big the effect is unknown.

“It’s very hard to completely disregard it because the tides on this Earth, the oceans, everything follows the moon’s gravitational pull and things like that. So it can’t be totally doing nothing to us,” Hayes said.

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