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?
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.
Every night’s sleep is different, and how you sleep on any given night is likely to be determined largely by short-term causes – what and when you ate, how much exercise you did today, stress levels, what you watched on TV, whether your partner is snoring – but there are also fundamental, long-term differences between people in their sleep patterns. It is thought these differences are often genetic, and recent research supports this idea, identifying for the first time a gene involved in determining how much sleep we need.
Sleep is a huge part of our lives, and the lives of many animals. Although we still do not fully understand the strange phenomenon that takes up a third of our lives, it is clear that without it we cannot survive. But with a growing number of things keeping us awake – work, tv, friends, sport, buzzfeed, reddit – how much sleep is enough sleep?
At this time of year, as the nights begin to draw in, and a chill appears in the air, the idea of simply curling up in a warm spot and sleeping through the winter months is very tempting. Unfortunately for us, Humans are not among the species which undergo hibernation. However, many other mammals reduce their activity levels during the winter, and a few undergo full hibernation, biochemically altering their metabolism to wait for more favourable conditions.
Do Insects Sleep? (asked by Claire)
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?
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 >>
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?
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