There is a lot to learn from the moon and the animal kingdom when it comes to sleeping better. Try these easy steps to get a better, more natural night of rest.
As my body continues its journey into later adulthood, sleep increasingly eludes me. I remember, with frustration, how I could fall asleep so easily—and stay asleep half the day—in my teenage years.
The issue seems particularly acute on nights when the moon is bright and full. Accordingly, I’ve wondered if instead of being pre-menopausal (as my doctor suggests), I’m actually pre-werewolfian (as my vivid imagination proposes).
The Moon’s Influence on Our Lives
Interestingly, beyond werewolves, the moon is vital to migration and navigation for many animals. For example, consider the Barau’s petrel, an endangered seabird that breeds on the island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean. Pairs of birds arrive precisely at the full moon to breed. (Ooh la la!) Corals in the Great Barrier Reef spawn right after the full moon, at a scale so large it is visible from space. The moon also impacts sleep in some species. A study in Current Biology reports that starlings are highly affected by the moon, sleeping two hours less when it is full.
So, what about humans? “The onset of sleep is delayed and sleep duration shortened as much as 1.5 hours on nights that precede the full moon night,” reports authors of the scientific study “Moonstruck Sleep: Synchronization of Human Sleep with the Moon Cycle Under Natural Conditions.”
When I started noticing my own sleep pattern’s correlation with the moon, I decided, rather than fight this planetary impact, I’d work with it, starting a practice of saying, “Good Night, Moon!” each evening, followed by a before-bed routine that has me catching more Z’s.
A Moon-Based Sleep Practice
1. Mindfully alert your body, mind, and spirit that it is time to get ready for sleep.
When the sky is clear, I head outside and look at the moon for a few minutes. I take in the awe-inspiring star-filled sky, remembering how small I really am in relation to the cosmos. In that moment, my to-do list and my daily worries start to slip away. I offer a short prayer: “Good Night, Moon! Thank you for watching over the Earth while we rest and sleep. Thank you for helping birds navigate and dung beetles traverse. Thank you for inspiring birds to meet, corals to spawn, and people to sleep. Help me sleep well this evening.”
2. Take a warm shower or bath.
Bathing before bed can help you fall asleep more quickly. Keeping the water between 104 and 108.5 degrees provides the optimal temperature for improving your overall sleep quality. Consider using lavender soap, as the herb is known to have calming effects. Close your eyes and imagine yourself floating in a moonlight-drenched open sea, with gentle waves rocking you.
3. Provide scents in your bedroom that are pleasant and sleep-inducing.
Consider your bedroom a sleeping habitat. Fill it with soft fabrics and plants. Before bed, spritz your pillow lightly with lavender, Ylang-ylang, or rose oil. Interestingly, many people sleep better when their partner’s scent is present. (I wonder if that extends to the smell of my feline roommates?)
4. Read yourself to sleep—and not on your tablet.
Light from electronic devices can interfere with sleep, so opt for a paper book for in-bed reading. Try reading something short and light with a resolved ending. I find Buddhist parables written for children (which are full of animals) are perfect. Here are my favorite collections:
Buddhist Stories for Kids: Jataka Tales of Kindness, Friendship, and Forgiveness, as told by Laura Burges, illustrated by Sonali Zohra
101 Tales: The Great Panchatantra Collection from Wonder House Books
Buddhist Animal Wisdom Stories, as told by Mark W. McGinnis
5. Forget counting sheep. Count your breaths in a 4:7:8 pattern.
If you find your mind overpacked with worry, attend to your inner habitat. Try “relaxing breath,” popularized by Dr. Andrew Weil and inspired by pranayama techniques. Inhale to a count of four, hold for a count of seven, then exhale to a count of eight. Repeat for four cycles.
6. Don’t load up on drinking water prior to bed.
The most frustrating nights are the ones in which I’m almost asleep, and then I have to go to the bathroom. I immediately feel like some cranky old woman from a late night TV ad, which is not surprising. Waking up to use the bathroom increases with age because our bodies produce less of a hormone that enables us to hold fluid in our bodies. There’s even a name for this: nocturia. Which sounds kinda werewolfy, doesn’t it?
Want more sleep tips? Check out this article: Groundhog Wisdom for Sleep.