Is the lunar eclipse affecting your mood? It might be – even if you can’t see the red moon

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Tonight’s lunar eclipse will be the longest of the century and while we won’t be able to see it in the US, we still might feel it. 

Scientists have shown time and time again that the phase of the lunar cycle on a given night affects how much we sleep, what kind of sleep we get and our moods the next day.  

Why exactly this is the case is still as much a mystery to the experts as it is to the rest of us.

But history and research bear it out: the moon just might mess with your sleep, mood and appetite tonight, and a sleep ‘diplomat’ told Daily Mail Online why.

Tonight's lunar eclipse has turned the moon a glowing orange in Israel. Eclipse's can only occur on the night of a full moon which may disrupt your sleep and, in turn, your mood and appetite

Tonight’s lunar eclipse has turned the moon a glowing orange in Israel. Eclipse’s can only occur on the night of a full moon which may disrupt your sleep and, in turn, your mood and appetite

The word ‘lunar’ has one close cousin (besides all things moon-related) in the English language: lunacy. 

In Greek and Roman times, a ‘lunatic,’ someone acting strangely or as if they might be insane, was literally thought to be under the influence of the moon. 

Now, we know that isn’t quite the case, but even NASA dedicates a (short) page to the effects of eclipses on humans. 

‘There is no evidence that eclipses have any physical effect on humans. However, eclipses have always been capable of producing profound psychological effects,’ it reads.   

Mostly, these waves of ecliptic hysteria aren’t the fault of the moon itself, but of very unscientific beliefs that an eclipse signaled doom (which many still hold).

The possible effects of the moon on our lives that research has suggested are much more subtle.

TONIGHT’S TOTAL ECLIPSE WILL TURN THE MOON RED – AND MAY KEEP YOU UP 

Every 27.3 days, the moon makes an orbit around the Earth, creating a 29.3 day lunar cycle. 

As it travels around the planet, its appearance to us looks a little different each night, depending on our location on Earth, the moon’s distance from us, and its position relative to both the Earth and Sun. 

Each month, the moon moves through eight phases, beginning with a the new moon –  when it is too relatively close to the sun in our night sky for any of the moon to be visible to us – and ending with the full moon, when the sun and the moon are on opposite sides of the earth, so the sun is brightly illuminating the moon’s entire face. 

Lunar eclipses happen when the moon passes through the shadow of the earth, blocking it from reflecting the sun’s light, and sometimes giving it a reddish color that earns this moon the name ‘blood moon.’ 

Supermoons occur when the moon is closest to the earth in its orbit, making it look bigger. 

Blue moons happen once every 2.5 years, when there is a second full moon in a calendar month, or a fourth in the season (so the third moon of a month that has four would be the ‘blue’ moon), though the color does not usually appear perceptively different.   

In general, scientists have observed shifts in our sleep patterns that coincide with the phases of the moon. 

For example: ‘During a full moon, we see total sleep time strikingly drop by 15-30 minutes, on average,’ Dr Matthew Walker, a University of California, Berkeley, sleep scientist told Daily Mail Online. 

‘This is, in part, because it takes people longer to fall asleep.’

Changes in our levels of a hormone called melatonin may be partially responsible for this phenomenon.

‘Melatonin helps time the healthy onset and quality of sleep,’ Dr Walker explained.  

‘The full moon, potentially because of its light-illuminating influence, blunts the release of nighttime melatonin, which is usually triggered by nighttime darkness.’ 

This was certainly true before electricity was widespread, but these effects may even persist now.  

In 2013, Swiss scientists published some evidence that the moon may indeed influence our sleep.

Their study actually relied on sleep lab data for an entirely different purpose between 2000 and 2003.  

During that small experiment, 33 study participants each spent two nights in the sleep lab. When it occurred to the scientists to compare the data from that study to the lunar phases from the same period, they found striking patterns. 

On nights when the moon was full, people took five minutes longer to fall asleep, and got 20 minutes less sleep.

‘It’s also fascinating that the electrical quality of your deep sleep, called NREM slow wave activity, decreases by almost 30% during the full moon, relative to a new moon,’ when there is no visible moon in the sky, said Dr Walker, who was not involved in the study. 

In turn, lower quality sleep can make us hungry because our levels of leptin and ghrelin, hormones that tell us when we need to eat and when we’re sated, both fall with fatigue. 

Similarly, ‘sleep deprivation has a marked impact on mood, so feeling tired, having your emotions be a little more in flux and pendulum-like would be very understandable,’ said Dr Walker.  

But the effects of a lunar eclipse on sleep and mood haven’t really been studied, ‘probably because there are few too instances,’ of the event that occurs about twice every three years. 

And its hard to surmise how an eclipse – which can only occur when the earth moves directly between the sun and moon on a full moon night – might fit into the findings from sleep studies on the regular phases of the moon.

A new moon gives us the darkest night, a full moon gives us the brightest and a total lunar eclipse like tonight’s gives us the reddest light.  

Whether or not the lunar cycles and light of the eclipse themselves make our sleep patterns slip up, there is no doubt that people in most of the world (the eclipse will be in view nearly everywhere but North America) will be staying up as late as possible to see the spectacle tonight.   

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