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Lunar Cycles and Neurotransmitters

Joseph Alonzo

The Potential for How We Work

Did you know there is a link between the brain and the moon?  In continuing with the theme of musing about the great workplace of the future, I thought I would share an intriguing theory I recently learned about while listening to NYU media theorist professor and author Douglas Rushkoff in interview with NPR.  In it he discussed the new science emerging on the relationship between the brain and lunar phases, and how he has leveraged that knowledge to create new behaviors around how he works.  Before sharing this theory, I thought we would look at our current workplace structures, and our understood and accepted physiological cycles, as what I will share will challenge both.  What I will attempt to support in this piece are two ideas:  first, our understanding of lunar cycles on the brain may become an accepted meme in the not so distant future; and two, this new understanding might lead to different methods for organizing ourselves around work.     

Our current structure for getting work done, insofar as I have experienced, is to fulfill a general range of tasks as they appear.  If an issue emerges then it might be time to put on our problem solving or research hat.  If a strategy meeting is scheduled we must summon our ability to collaborate on ideas and think together.  This is how things are.  We need to be ready to approach any assignment that might arise on any given day.  This is a great way to work and if we were to continue working like this, I think we would continue to develop diverse and resourceful abilities.   What if, however, there is a different way?  We’ll circle back around on this, but keep it in mind as we explore an interrelated biological phenomenon.

Circadian RhythmsCircadian rhythms are the physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle that are responsive to light and darkness in the environment.   They are widely known and accepted phenomenons in many modern societies.  When the sun rises our ‘internal clock’ sends signals to our brain telling us it is time to get up.  Our energy level slowly begins to increase until it peaks, at which point it begins its slow decent towards the melatonin secretion stage and eventual sleep when it is fully dark.  The feeling of being jet lagged is the experience one feels when this rhythm is disrupted.  This cycle is inherent in each of us, and if we fall asleep and wake up at roughly the same time everyday, then our circadian rhythm is strong.  What I would like to point out about circadian rhythms is that it was not likely to have been an accepted scientific theory  until some sort of tipping point was reached, thus shifting public perception from one of rejection or indifference to one of acceptance.  In our current paradigm, you would be hard pressed to find someone who denies the existence of circadian rhythms. 

This new theory, which has implications on the way we work and how we understand our cyclical selves, states that our bodies produce a different neurochemical response during the four-week lunar cycle.  Each week, a different neurotransmitter seems to dominate, and each neurotransmitter lends itself to specific tasks.  For example, one week acetylcholine is dominate and encourages new social contacts.  In the next, serotonin stimulates productivity, and in the third increased dopamine emphasizes risk taking and recreation, while in the last norepinephrine heightens our analytic skills.  So, what if instead of forcing ourselves to fight these patterns, we engaged them?

Our current workplace systems are not designed to support working on tasks that align with the dominating neurotransmitter, but what if they did?  Admittedly, this is a challenging concept to consider given the reality of deadlines and the collaborative nature of many workplaces; however, when dreaming up the future it is important to consider the value of an idea before immediately finding its inconveniences.   

While there are many benefits to persevering through a difficult task when you just don’t feel up to it, and enjoying a company outing after pushing yourself to be social when all you want to do is go home and curl up with a movie, we must wonder what our experiences would be like if our behavior was more in tune with the neurotransmitter of the week.  Certainly, it is worth an exploration to discover whether there is value in the idea of shaping our individual and collective work patterns around our natural physiological patterns.    

Joseph holds a Master’s in Organizational Development from Saybrook University, and is an education and innovation consultant in the San Francisco, Bay Area.  Joseph is a guest blogger for Great Place to Work®.


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