By Dr. Mercola
Sleep may be one of the simplest changes you make to your daily routine, affecting everything from your mental and emotional health to your physical health.
Poor-quality sleep may also impact other serious or chronic underlying health conditions, such as kidney disease, multiple sclerosis or gastrointestinal disorders.
Unfortunately, according to the National Sleep Foundation's (NSF) annual survey, both children and parents experience interrupted or poor-quality sleep related to a variety of factors, including room temperature, noise, light, pets and evening activities.2
Now, there is one more factor you may add to the list of reasons for a night of poor-quality sleep. Sleep studies reveal your body reacts differently on nights of a full moon, unrelated to the added light outside.3
Sleeping Under a Full Moon
Scientists have long been intrigued with the effect of the moon on your body, calling it the lunar effect. A study in the journal Current Biology now suggests that the moon may have a detrimental effect on your sleep quality and sleep pattern.
Using 33 participants in a sleep study lab, researchers demonstrated several changes in sleep patterns.4
Participants slept in a completely darkened room without windows, so the effect of extra light from a full moon would not be a factor. Hooked up to monitors, patients slept the night at the lab, allowing researchers to record how quickly they fell asleep, how long they slept and their brain wave patterns during sleep.
Participants stayed at the lab for 3 1/2 days during the study period. Neither the participants nor the researchers were told one of the factors in the study was the phase of the moon. In fact, at the time the data was gathered, the phases of the moon were not a consideration in the study.
The research took place in 2000, evaluating factors such as melatonin levels, time to fall asleep, time asleep and subjective reports about how well-rested the participants felt. It wasn't until a decade later, the researchers realized their data could be used to evaluate the effect of the phase of the moon on sleep.5
The data shows participants got 20 minutes less sleep during the full moon.
It also took them five more minutes to fall asleep, and more importantly, they experienced 30 percent less deep sleep than they did on nights when there wasn't a full moon.6
The researchers stress further studies are needed to confirm the relationship between the phases of the moon and sleep patterns.
They theorized the lunar effect on sleep may be related to the increased amount of light you are exposed to before sleep on nights of a full moon, or related to a yet undiscovered lunar clock, similar to your circadian clock.7
Other Lunar Influences on Your Body
If the moon does have an influence on your sleep patterns, the mechanism is not clear. Several studies have been done evaluating the effect of the moon on epilepsy (seizure activity), psychiatric visits, emergency room visits, surgery outcomes and sleep deprivation.
The results have been intriguing. Although healthcare workers in emergency rooms and psychiatric hospitals equate a full moon with greater activity, studies have not supported this observation.8 Doctors don't make more mistakes in surgery and people don't suffer more seizure activity.
What has been linked are a greater number of injuries to dogs and cats in the three days surrounding a full moon and greater hunting activity in nocturnal wild animals on days following a full moon.9
Although the menstrual cycle in humans tends to be 28 days, the same length as the lunar cycle, no research has demonstrated women start or stop their menstrual cycles in tandem with the lunar cycle.
The results of the study evaluating sleep disturbances during a full moon also found a reduction in melatonin levels produced by the sleep study participants.10 Melatonin is a key factor in your ability to sleep soundly throughout the night.
Melatonin Affects More Than Your Sleep
Melatonin is a hormone secreted by your pineal gland in your brain. Its job is to regulate the production and use of other hormones and maintain your circadian rhythm, or 24-hour body clock. This plays a critical role in your sleep quality.
However, this is not the only role melatonin plays in your body. The hormone is intricately related to the female reproductive system, controlling the timing and release of female reproductive hormones, frequency and duration of the menstrual cycle and when a woman starts (menarche) and stops (menopause) menstruating.11
Preliminary research also suggests a link between abnormal levels of melatonin during pregnancy and the onset of preeclampsia.12 This condition develops only during pregnancy, involving high blood pressure with potential protein excretion in the urine and fluid retention. It may necessitate early delivery of your baby.
Melatonin levels are far higher in children than in adults. Researchers theorize there is a connection between the lowering levels of melatonin and aging.13 Melatonin is also a powerful antioxidant, potentially offering both neuroprotective and anti-aging effects on the brain.14,15
Not only does melatonin regulate the reproductive system, but it also appears to help protect against cancers of the reproductive tract. Ovarian, endometrial, breast, prostate and testicular cancers all appear to be affected by your levels of melatonin.16,17
Boost Your Natural Melatonin Production
In the video above, I explain the relationship between melatonin and sleep, and the role melatonin plays in your overall health.
Melatonin production is naturally regulated by your body when you are exposed to light and dark. While there are over-the-counter melatonin supplements, the most effective long-term solution is to develop habits that will increase your natural melatonin production and improve your overall health.
✓ Sunshine during the morning
Melatonin is affected by your exposure to light and dark. When it is light, production of melatonin naturally drops.
Getting at least 15 minutes of sunlight in the morning hours helps to regulate the production of melatonin, dropping it to normal daytime levels, so you feel awake during the day and sleep better at night.
✓ Sleep in the dark
Your body produces and secretes melatonin in the dark, helping you to go to sleep and stay asleep. Sleeping in a completely darkened room, without lights from alarm clocks, televisions or other sources will improve your sleep quality.22
If you get up during the night to use the bathroom, it's important to keep the lights off so you don't shut off your production of melatonin.
✓ Turn off your computer and hand held digital equipment
Although these are light sources, they deserve special mention as the type of light source from digital equipment may also reduce your body's production of melatonin in the evening when you need it most.
Brightness and exposure to light in the blue and white wavelengths appear to affect the production of melatonin, exactly the wavelengths of light emitted from tablets, laptops and computers.23 To protect your sleep, put your computers and digital equipment away at least one hour before bed.
✓ Reduce your caffeine intake
Caffeine, found in coffee, dark chocolate and other drinks, has a half-life of five hours. This means 25 percent remains in your system 10 hours later. For a better night's sleep, cut out your caffeinated foods and drinks after lunch.
✓ Lower your stress level and your cortisol level
The release of melatonin is dependent on the release of another hormone, norepinephrine. Excess stress, and the resulting release of cortisol, will inhibit the release of norepinephrine and therefore the release of melatonin.24
Stress-reducing strategies you may find helpful before bed include yoga, stretching, meditation and prayer.
✓ Increase foods high in magnesium
Magnesium plays a role in reducing brain activity at night, helping you to relax and fall asleep more easily. It works in tandem with melatonin. Foods containing higher levels of magnesium include almonds, avocados, pumpkin seeds and green leafy vegetables.25
10 Ways to Improve Your Sleep Quality
Without quality sleep, your body may develop a number of health conditions, which can lead to significant life changes. Diabetes, heart disease, dementia and weight gain have either been linked to a lack of sleep, or are being studied for the effect poor sleep quality has on the development of the condition.
Melatonin is an important way to regulate your sleep habit. Here are other strategies you may want to incorporate into your daily routine in order to improve the quality of your sleep patterns and reduce the overall effect of sleep loss on nights when there is a full moon. For more tips on getting a consistent good night's sleep, see my previous article titled "Want a Good Night's Sleep? Then Never Do These Things Before Bed."
✓ Turn your bedroom into an oasis for sleep
Your bed is a place to sleep and rest comfortably. Only two other activities will not significantly impede a restful sleep: reading and intimate relations with your significant other. Anything else, such as work, computers, cells phones or watching television will reduce the quality of your sleep.26
Reduce any noisy interruptions from pets or outdoor activities. You might consider removing your pet from the bedroom or using a white noise machine to reduce interruptions from outdoor noises.27
✓ Establish a soothing pre-bedtime routine
Humans are creatures of habit. When you establish a soothing bedtime routine you go through each evening before bed, you're more likely to fall asleep easily. Activities such as a warm bath, reading a good book or relaxation exercises may help you fall asleep easier. If you have trouble falling to sleep one night, it's better to leave the bedroom and read quietly than to try even harder to fall asleep.28
✓ Keep a consistent schedule
When you go to bed and wake up at the same times, your body becomes accustomed to the routine. This helps regulate your circadian clock so you fall asleep and stay asleep all night. Keep this routine even on the weekends.29
✓ Nap early or not at all
✓ Drink earlier rather than later
Your sleep may be interrupted from the need to empty your bladder. Stop drinking within two hours of going to bed. This will at least minimize the number of times you need to get up.
✓ Check your bedroom for electromagnetic fields (EMFs)
These can disrupt your pineal gland and the production of melatonin and serotonin, and may have other negative effects as well. To do this, you need a gauss meter. You can find various models online, starting around $50 to $200. Some experts even recommend pulling your circuit breaker before bed to kill all power in your house.
Your body thrives on exercise and movement. It reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease and metabolic disorders. Exercise will help you get to sleep more easily and sleep more soundly. However, your body also releases cortisol during exercise, which may reduce your melatonin secretion. Exercise at least three hours before bed, and earlier if you can.31
✓ Keep your room cool
The optimal temperature for sleeping is between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. If your room is cooler or warmer, you may have a more restless night's sleep.32 During sleep, your body's core temperature drops to the lowest level during a 24-hour period. The cooler your room is, the more conducive it may be to your body's natural drop in temperature.
✓ Evaluate your mattress and pillow
You'll experience more restful sleep when your mattress and pillows are comfortable and supportive. You'll want to consider replacing your mattress after nine or 10 years, the average life expectancy of a good-quality mattress.33
✓ Downshift your mental gymnastics before bed
Put all your work away at least one, and preferably two, hours before bed. You need a chance to unwind before falling asleep without being anxious about the next day's plans or deadlines.