Some said it had the power to turn a sleeping human into a ferocious wolf-like creature—if the poor soul drank rainwater out of a wolf’s footprint before falling asleep outside on certain cloudless summer nights. And the only way to stop such a beast is with a bullet cast from pure silver.
That’s one story.
Others refused to conduct business when the moon was full, citing high probability of the deal’s failure or being cheated out of money. Dogs were said to run rabid, sailors refused passage and many a maiden stayed home to avoid being thought a witch.
Few believe these stories today, but there is one product of the full moon’s supposed power that lingers: it’s ability to change human behavior. Ask your neighborhood policeman or the nursing staff at your local hospital. When the moon is full, crime rates soar, sleep is disturbed and we all start acting a little crazy.
But do we really?
This was the question set before an international team of researchers, led by Dr. Jean-Philippe Chaput from the Eastern Ontario Research Institute. His team recently studied the effect of the full moon on sleep and behavior in children.
Investigators followed 5,812 kids living on five continents. They came from a wide range of economic, social and cultural backgrounds, and many variables were considered, including age, sex, parental education, body mass index, sleep duration, level of physical activity and sedentary time.
Data collectors also recorded specific activities and behaviors of the children as they made their observations over a 28-month period. All children were watched on the same days, which included an equal number of three lunar phases: full moon, half moon and new moon.
So what did they find?
I’m afraid the result may disappoint you. Turns out that no activity or behavior was significantly modified by the full moon. Oh, there was one exception: sleep. Participants slept five fewer minutes on nights when the moon was full.
Dr. Chaput says, “Our study provides compelling evidence that the moon does not appear to influence people’s behavior. The only significant finding was 1% less sleep during the full moon, and this is largely explained by our large sample size, which maximizes statistical power. Overall, I think we should not be worried about the full moon. Our behaviors are largely influenced by many other factors like genes, education, income and psychosocial aspects… rather than gravitational forces.”
The research team believes their results are conclusive, but they admit controversy will remain. Myths don’t die easily. And it probably won’t be long before another study attempts to link our biology to the lunar cycle. Maybe the moon affects adults more than children. Or perhaps it has special influence on those with mental disorders or physical ailments.
And regardless of any past or future science discrediting this myth, one thing is certain: the moon mystery will continue to fascinate civilizations in the years and decades to come.
For more about the mystery of kids’ behavior and the full moon, listen to our PediaCast.
Dr. Mike Patrick is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Ohio State University College of Medicine and Medical Director of Interactive Media for Nationwide Children's Hospital. Since 2006, he has hosted the award-winning PediaCast, a pediatric podcast for parents. Dr. Mike also produces a national podcast for healthcare providers—PediaCast CME, which explores general pediatric and faculty development topics and offers free AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™ to listeners.
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