How the Moon Affects Us

The idea that the phases of the moon are linked to the human psyche is one of the oldest and most pervasive examples of folk lore and mythology. It is woven into the fabric of our classic literature, poetry and music. Even today, a surprising number of people believe that our deepest emotions and mental states are influenced by the lunar cycle, and there are plenty of police officers, doctors, nurses and prison guards who would swear blind they’ve seen evidence of it in their everyday lives. But is the lunar effect real? How and why does it work? Humans have spent thousands of years discussing the lunar effect in stories and legends, and the last 40 years documenting it in the academic literature. So what’s the verdict? How does the moon affect us?

In it’s simplest form, the Werewolf exemplifies our most primitive understanding of a link between human behaviour and emotion and the moon. It captures our idea that during the full moon, man becomes wild, violent and instinctive, a reversion to a more basal, less civilised version of ourselves. This is probably the most pervasive aspect of the myth, that the moon controls human aggression, impulsivity, violence and mood. But the lunar effect has also been proposed for a range of scenarios so broad it will make your mind boggle. A quick google search will tell you that the moon controls our fertility and reproduction, influences violent crime, suicide and even traffic accidents, affects seizures, blood loss, sleep quality and even our political leanings. All of this begs the question, how and why might such a mechanism exist?

Continue reading

Couples Sleep In Sync

Love it or hate it, sharing a bed with someone is the norm for most adults in a relationship, but how well we sleep together can have a profound effect on our mood, our relationships and the rest of our lives. A new study presented at a recent SLEEP conference suggests that sleeping couples sleep better together when the woman is more satisfied.

It has previously been reported that divorced and single people experience more sleep disturbances and generally poorer quality sleep than couples, but it seems that the quality of your relationship might also influence how well you sleep. Research presented at SLEEP 2014, the 28th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, suggests that how well you sleep with your partner may be a reflection of the quality of your relationship. According to lead author Dr Heather Gunn from the University of Pittsburgh, “the sleep of married couples is more in sync on a minute-by-minute basis than the sleep of random individuals”, suggesting that our sleep patterns are influenced not just by where and when we sleep, but with also with whom we sleep.

Continue reading

Do Insects Sleep?

In my recent article in Experimentation magazine, I made the rather bold claim that all animals sleep in some way or another. This is certainly true for all mammals and probably all vertebrates, but do insects experience sleep, and how similar is their experience to ours?

In order to determine whether insects can be said to sleep, we first have to define exactly what we mean by sleep. Traditionally, sleep is defined as a “rapidly reversible state of immobility and greatly reduced sensory responsiveness” (Seigel, 2008). It is distinct from simply resting, where we are still conscious. It is also distinct from more permanent states of rest such as hibernation. Sleep in humans, and in mammals in general, is defined by specific patterns of electrical activity in the brain, but can the same patterns be found in insects?

Continue reading

The Science of Sleep

Sleep is one of the most important aspects of our lives. Along with food, water and sex it is one of our most fundamental needs. Most people spend about 30% of their life sleeping; in a lifetime most people can expect to lose over 200,000 hours to sleep. This astonishing figure equates to around 9800 days or 27 years! What a waste! Imagine what we could achieve if we didn’t have to sleep.

It’s not just us, though. The need for sleep is as pervasive in the animal kingdom as hunger. All animals sleep, in some way or another. So why do we do it, how is it controlled, and how can the physiological controls of sleeping help us to understand other aspects of our existence?

A great deal is now understood about the biological control mechanisms underpinning the sleep-wake cycle. This cycle is circadian, meaning that it repeats approximately once every day, and the regulation of sleep is strongly influenced by daily variation in light intensity. However, there is also internal control of sleep; if kept in total darkness, animals will still experience a sleep cycle. Universal across the animal kingdom, the centre of communication between external and internal influences is the pineal gland, located at the top of the brainstem, close to the surface of the skull. In many non-human animals, the skull is sufficiently thin that the pineal gland is able to detect some light passing through, and hormones that control the sleep cycle are stimulated directly by the presence or absence of light. However, in humans the skull is far too thick for this system to work. Instead, light levels are assessed directly by the eyes, and information from the eyes is passed on to the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) which relays the information back to the pineal gland. Information about external conditions is combined with our internal clock to determine whether we should feel tired or awake.

Read full article in Experimentation >>

What a Way to Make a Living

Nine to five. The whole western world seems to based around this simple concept. And perhaps for many people this seems to work just fine. If you’re a morning person, the nine to five regime works perfectly with your natural biological rhythms. But what if you’re an evening person? Research has shown a real genetic distinction between morning and evening people, and this distinction affects not just your preferred sleep-wake cycle, but daily body temperature rhythms, and variation in concentration and attention span.

Estimates suggest that just 15% of the population are true morning people, with about 25% being true night owls. The rest of the population is intermediate. If such a small fraction of the population is completely suited to a nine to five schedule, then why has this time frame become the standard? And does this mean that 85% of the population are not working to their full potential, simply because they are being forced into an unnatural work rhythm?

Continue reading

Frogs Develop Biological Anti-Freeze

While most animals will try to avoid freezing at all costs, some species of frog are actively encouraging it.

The wood frog (Rana sylvatica) is one of a handful of freeze-tolerant animals with adaptations to cope with freezing for up for 4 weeks. And within hours of defrosting the frogs are back to their usual selves again.

Continue reading

Is There Any Truth to Astrology?

While your daily horoscope may seem to have little bearing on your life, recent research suggests that the month of our birth may have more influence that we think. A number of studies have shown that month of birth has a small, but significant impact on the chance of developing schizophrenia, depression, alcoholism, anorexia and a variety of other psychological issues as adults. Your birth month could even affect your chances of being dyslexic.

The cause of this is believed to be cosmic, however the star in question is our own sun. Scientists claim that the amount of sun exposure during your mother’s pregnancy is the cause of the seasonal pattern. This is supported by the finding that the pattern is exactly reversed in the southern hemisphere compared to the north, where sun exposure peaks at the opposite time of year. Scientists are not yet certain of the cause of the connection between psychology and sun exposure during pregnancy, but a number of theories exist.

Continue reading