The mood-altering power of the Moon

The mood-altering(ˈôltər) power of the Moon

The idea that the lunar(ˈlo͞onər) cycle can influence people’s behaviour(bəˈhāvyər) dates back thousands of years, but has been largely dismissed by modern medicine(ˈmedəsən). But new research suggests there may be some truth to these ancient(ˈānCHənt) theories(ˈTHi(ə)rē,ˈTHēərē).

By Linda Geddes

The 35-year-old man sitting in David(ˈdāvid) Avery’s(ā) psychiatric(ˌsīkēˈatrik) clinic(ˈklinik) was an engineer: “He liked to solve problems,” Avery recalls. And the problem perplexing(pərˈpleksiNG) him when he was admitted to the Seattle(sēˈadl) psychiatric ward where Avery worked in 2005 were his moods, which swung violently(ˈvī(ə)ləntlē) from one extreme(ikˈstrēm) to another – sometimes involving suicidal(ˌso͞oiˈsīdl) fantasies(ˈfantəsē) or seeing and hearing things that weren’t there. The man’s sleep pattern was similarly(ˈsim(ə)lərlē) erratic(əˈradik), veering(vi(ə)r) from near total insomnia(inˈsämnēə) to getting 12 hours per night.

Being a problem-solver, the man had been keeping meticulous(məˈtikyələs) records of these patterns, trying to make sense of it all. Avery closely studied these records and scratched(skraCH) his head: “It was the rhythmicity(ˌriT͟Hˈmisədē) of it that intrigued(inˈtrēɡ) me,” he says. To him, it looked very much like the patient’s mood and sleep patterns were tracking rise(rīz) and fall of the Earth’s oceans, which are driven(ˈdrivən) by the gravitational(ˌɡravəˈtāSH(ə)nəl) pull of the moon.

“There seemed to be high tides(tīd) occurring during the night when the sleep duration(d(y)o͝orˈāSHən) was short,” says Avery. He initially(iˈniSHəlē) dismissed his hunch(hənCH) as lunacy(ˈlo͞onəsē). Even if the man’s mood cycles were in synch(siNGk) with the Moon, he had no mechanism(ˈmekəˌnizəm) to explain it, nor any ideas about what to do about it. The patient was prescribed(prəˈskrīb) drugs and light therapy(ˈTHerəpē) to stabilise(ˈstābəˌlīz) his mood and sleep, and eventually discharged. Avery slipped the man’s notes into the proverbial(prəˈvərbēəl) file drawer(ˈdrô(ə)r) and closed it.