Under the Light of the Moon: Sleep Issues, Melatonin and the Hypothalamus

Photo: Our grateful thanks to Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

by Connie Hernandez, ND

In the 1970s, Louise Lacey’s book, Lunaception, taught women to align their fertility cycles with the cycles of the moon.

We learned that macaque monkeys ovulate on the full moon, and the back-to-the-landers among us who lived in tipis for a time found that we did, too.

Scientific literature has documented the physiologic effects of lunar cycles on reef coral, sea-dwelling worms, fish, and birds.

  • Oysters close on the full moon.
  • There’s evidence that manic depressive cycles synchronize with lunar cycles.
  • Folk knowledge has it that traffic accidents, crimes, and suicides, and consequent ER visits and hospitals admissions increase during the full moon. The word “lunatic” refers to moon-related changes in mental states.

It’s no surprise, then, that the same lunar cycles that have the power to influence the ocean tides would influence the tides of our bodies. It’s been speculated that the release of neurohormones may be triggered by the moon’s gravitational pull.

And it’s a scientifically supported fact that the timing and degree of light and darkness affect the secretion of melatonin by the pineal gland. The brighter the light, the greater the suppression of melatonin.

Sleep researchers have found an association between decreased deep sleep and a delay of rapid eye movement sleep during the full moon.

  • Melatonin is widely – and wisely – used to support sleep. But that’s not all it does – while melatonin supports sleep in doses as low as .5 mg, higher doses are used to address gastric reflux and to support immune function.
  • Still higher doses are used as an anticarcinogenic, particularly in hormonally modulated cancers.
  • Ruling out light-induced suppression of melatonin as a factor, there is a decreased risk of breast cancer in blind women, and of prostate cancer in blind men.
  • Melatonin directly inhibits the proliferation of cancer cells. When melatonin is suppressed, tumors divide at a higher rate.
  • Melatonin from the pineal gland also supplies the melatonin receptors in the hypothalamus gland. The hypothalamus regulates the body’s hormonal system and links the endocrine system with the nervous system.

Body temperature, appetite, emotional response, blood pressure, and other vital functions are kept in homeostasis by the hypothalamus.

Given the influence of the hypothalamus and its dependence on melatonin from the pineal gland, we can easily understand the global bodily disruption that light pollution might be causing.

The widespread use of electric lights disrupts the patterns of light and darkness under which we evolved, depressing melatonin production, altering circadian rhythms, and adversely affecting many bodily systems. 

While modern life has its welcome benefits, it can also have a profoundly negative impact on our physiology. As we begin to understand these impacts better, we can take immediate steps to correct the imbalances.

Sleeping in total darkness, and sleeping with the natural light/dark seasonal cycles, are two easy first steps. We might all also benefit from periodically taking time away from artificial lighting and electronic devices to refresh ourselves and reset our natural circadian rhythms.

Sleep issues? Schedule a visit with Dr. Connie for evaluation. 650-961-1660

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