Sometimes, even after a long, hard day at work, you can't find yourself to fall asleep at night. It can be extremely frustrating, especially knowing that you're not getting the required 7-8 hours of sleep. You know you're supposed to get optimal cognitive and physiological functioning the next day .
Perhaps you suffer from chronic stress, and you've been going through this for a while now. Or maybe this is just an innocent, isolated incident that doesn't happen to you too often.
No matter the case, it's a nuisance, and I'm sure you're looking for a solution. So instead of counting sheep, what are you supposed to do about this frustrating situation?
Just Have Some...Mushrooms?
Yep, you heard me right! But not just any mushroom, a specific type of mushroom has been frequently used in traditional Chinese, Japanese, and Korean medicine known as the Reishi mushroom, and sometimes it is called the Lingzhi mushroom. Until more recently, it's effects on sleep have become so profound and well-known that it is now internationally used.
In traditional Chinese medicine, the Reishi mushroom causes the An-Shen effect, which roughly can be translated in English to “calm the nerves and soul” . Before its positive impact on insomnia was discovered, it has been widely used in China for general restlessness, as well as those who suffer from heart palpitations
- This was concluded after a formal review of the Reishi mushroom research was conducted in 2019 .
But as the discoveries of its effects continued, researchers realized that it appeared to exert effects similar to benzodiazepines, a sedative class of medications that are commonly used for anxiety and panic disorders such as diazepam (Valium™) and alprazolam (Xanax™)
In a rat study, supplementation with Reishi mushroom reduced the amount of time for the rats to fall asleep and increased the total amount of time slept.
- Reishi mushroom also shows promise in reducing overall spontaneity. This same study showed that spontaneous activity (such as excessive fidgeting and other unnecessary physical movements commonly seen in those with anxiety or panic disorders) was significantly reduced in the rats. Like with its effects on sleep, this wasn't observed until the 3rd day onward .
Researchers are also discovering that while Reishi mushroom appears to work quite well as a sedative, this effect is not fast-acting, in contrast to benzodiazepine medications.
In one study involving rats, the first two days of supplementation saw no effects on the rats' sleep.
- However, from the 3rd day onward, the mushroom provided the rats with significant improvements in their total time asleep and the amount of time it took to fall asleep .
Although it requires a little bit of patience, the improvements you’ll get in your sleep and overall stress levels are certainly worth the (short) wait.
Just a Word of Caution
Although Reishi mushroom has proven to us that it’s ready for the big leagues, there is one caveat you should probably think about before taking it for your sleep.
What I’m referring to here is the fact that while Reishi mushroom increases total sleep time and sleep latency, it does not increase the total amount of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep; only non-REM sleep. While all of the sleep you get is essential, REM sleep is known as the deepest kind of sleep you get during the night.
Because of this, it can be deemed more essential for the body to maintain its normal physiological functioning, as its deprivation leads to severe behavioral and physiological abnormalities .
However, this does not at all mean that the Reishi mushroom is not useful to sleep health. Far from it! This just reminds you to keep your expectations reasonable. It also opens up the possibilities of pairing it with other supplements that are known to be effective in improving sleep, such as valerian root and melatonin.
Research is still looking into synergistic combinations such as these, and it's looking promising.
So How Does It Work?
The mechanisms involved in these mushrooms are quite complex and are well beyond this article's scope.
However, to give you a brief idea, most of its mechanisms revolve around modifying how the immune system functions at a particular moment in time. In other words, this mushroom can lower immune system activity when the system is overstimulated and increase it when it has been weakened to a significant extent.
Now, it may sound like a bad thing if it can reduce your immune systems' capacity, and you might be thinking, "Why wouldn't I want my immune system to be functioning at its highest capacity?" Well, the fact of the matter is that an overstimulated immune system can work against you.
A typical example of this is the infamous cytokine storm, which refers to the excess release of cytokines during severe immune reactions. During standard times, cytokines play a vital role in your body's normal immune system response. But in excess, your body can become severely inflamed, and could potentially lead to fatal organ failure .
Reishi mushroom is a very exciting supplement for researchers due to its powerful effects on sleep, despite it not being a pharmaceutical drug. For a natural compound, this is very significant.
This rings even more true with its anti-cancer effects, as many over-the-counter remedies lack scientific evidence in terms of their effectiveness. However, the Reishi mushroom appears to be one of the only ones that work!
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- Consensus Conference Panel, Watson, N. F., Badr, M. S., Belenky, G., Bliwise, D. L., Buxton, O. M., Buysse, D., Dinges, D. F., Gangwisch, J., Grandner, M. A., Kushida, C., Malhotra, R. K., Martin, J. L., Patel, S. R., Quan, S. F., & Tasali, E. (2015). Joint Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society on the Recommended Amount of Sleep for a Healthy Adult: Methodology and Discussion. Journal of clinical sleep medicine : JCSM : official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 11(8), 931–952. https://doi.org/10.5664/jcsm.4950
- Ricky. (2018, July 21). 安神 (an shen): Translation, meaning, pronunciation, examples. Retrieved September 05, 2020, from https://language.chinaabout.net/an-shen-translation-meaning-pronunciation-examples/
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- Cui, X. Y., Cui, S. Y., Zhang, J., Wang, Z. J., Yu, B., Sheng, Z. F., Zhang, X. Q., & Zhang, Y. H. (2012). Extract of Ganoderma lucidum prolongs sleep time in rats. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 139(3), 796–800. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2011.12.020
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- NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/cytokine-storm