Sleep is a fundamental aspect of human well-being, playing a crucial role in physical and mental health. However, modern lifestyles, stress, and various health conditions often disrupt our sleep patterns, leaving us feeling tired and depleted. In recent years, the interest in natural remedies to promote quality sleep has grown, with Reishi Mushroom emerging as a notable contender. This article explores the benefits of Reishi Mushroom in supporting deep and restful sleep from both Western and Chinese Medicine perspectives.
Before exploring the specific benefits of Reishi Mushroom, it is essential to delve into the scientific understanding of deep and restful sleep. Sleep is a complex process regulated by intricate neurochemical interactions within the brain. It consists of two main stages: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, which includes slow-wave sleep (SWS), and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Each stage serves distinct functions in promoting physical restoration, tissue repair, cognitive processing, memory consolidation, hormonal regulation, immune function and emotional regulation. Each sleep cycle typically lasts around 90-120 minutes.
Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) Sleep
NREM sleep is divided into three stages: N1, N2, and N3.
N1 is the transition phase between wakefulness and sleep, characterized by light sleep. N2 is a deeper stage during which brain activity slows down, and the body prepares for deep sleep. N3, also known as slow-wave sleep (SWS), is the deepest and most restorative stage, where the brain engages in cellular repair, hormone regulation, and memory consolidation.
Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep
REM sleep is the stage associated with vivid dreaming and heightened brain activity. During REM sleep, the eyes move rapidly, and the body experiences temporary paralysis to prevent acting out dreams. REM sleep is critical for cognitive function, emotional processing, and memory consolidation.
The sleep-wake cycle is regulated by the circadian rhythm, an internal biological clock that coordinates various physiological and behavioural processes over a 24-hour period. The circadian rhythm is influenced by environmental cues, most notably light and darkness.
Light exposure, particularly in the morning, helps regulate the circadian rhythm. Light signals received by the eyes suppress the production of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep while increasing alertness and wakefulness. Conversely, darkness and the absence of light trigger the release of melatonin, signalling the body to prepare for sleep.
Our circadian rhythm can be disrupted by a number of factors, one of the most important being excessive exposure to blue light (from our phones, computer, and television as well as most lighting in our homes). Other factors can include exercising too close to sleep, irregular sleeping patterns and chronic stress.
Sleep & Chinese Medicine
Looking now through the lens of Chinese medicine, any issue around sleeping is attributed to an imbalance of YinYang and Qi. The day is considered to be Yang in nature, it is a time for outward energy. As the day begins to wane into the night, we descend into Yin, a time of slowness, replenishment and restoration. Naturally, our bodies mirror this cycle and if there is a disruption it indicates an imbalance in the transformation of YinYang within the body and its organ systems.
Depending on what kind of sleep disturbance you are experiencing, it can indicate an imbalance in specific organs or elements within the body. For example, difficulty in falling asleep can indicate an imbalance in the Heart and Liver (this can be further broken down into Shen disturbance, Liver Qi stagnation and Heart Qi deficiency). Trouble staying asleep can indicate Heart Blood deficiency or Yin deficiency. According to the Chinese Body Clock, Qi moves through the Liver system from 1-3 am, therefore waking up between this time can indicate Liver Qi stagnation. If you wake up between 3-5 am this is Lung Metal time, which can indicate disharmony within the Lungs as well as the associated emotions of sadness and grief.
If you are experiencing chronic insomnia and sleep disturbances, we recommend seeking the guidance of a TCM practitioner who is able to provide more individualised guidance and treatment.
Sleep, Stress & Reishi Mushroom
In Western medicine, research has shown that Reishi Mushroom contains bioactive compounds such as triterpenes, polysaccharides, and ganoderic acids, which contribute to its sleep-enhancing properties. Triterpenes, for example, have been found to interact with neurotransmitters and receptors in the brain, promoting relaxation, reducing anxiety, and improving sleep quality. The polysaccharides derived from reishi have been observed to modulate sleep-wake cycles and enhance sleep efficiency.
Chronic stress is also a common obstacle to a good night's sleep. Reishi is considered an adaptogenic tonic herb, meaning it helps the body adapt and respond better to stress. By regulating stress hormones like cortisol, reishi mushroom can lower stress levels, allowing for a more relaxed state conducive to a night of deep and restful sleep. Reishi has also been shown to influence various neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Serotonin plays a crucial role in regulating mood and promoting relaxation, while GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps calm the nervous system. By modulating these neurotransmitters, reishi can promote a sense of calmness and tranquillity, aiding in falling asleep and staying asleep throughout the night.
Heart Fire & Shen
The Heart is the home of our Shen (Spirit) energy. One of the Heart’s primary roles is to protect the Spirit/Shen. The Heart is the embodiment of the Fire element, and the Heart Qi carries the qualities of Fire. We can view the Heart as being the fire in the hearth of the Spirit’s home.
As we know, a fire in the home needs to be regulated and tended to throughout the year to adjust to what is happening with the earth, weather and atmosphere. The same requirements occur with our Heart, and therefore adjustments to our temperament, emotions, herbs, diet and energy expenditure are needed throughout the year to ensure that the home of the Spirit is an appealing place for our Shen to reside.
If the Heart is a calm and comfortable place for Shen to inhabit, then we will be calm, and contented and have the potential to develop our higher consciousness through our daily activities, gaining wisdom as we go. Heart Fire regulates the activeness (Yang) and quietness (Yin) of a person. In harmony, the Heart Fire allows a person to be calm, grounded and at peace.
A good way to identify whether the Heart Fire is balanced and in sync with the world around us is our ability to rise with the sun, be active through the day, and retire to rest deeply at night. When there is a disturbance in the Heart Fire (and hence a lack of Spirit/Shen being expressed), disharmonies in one’s ability to be restful and/or active will become evident. If this state of disharmony becomes chronic, the body will lack the ability to embody Shen energy.
Reishi’s capacity to nourish Shen is the reason why it is the most revered herb in the Taoist system. With the ability to enter four of the five major organ systems and tone all Three Treasures, Reishi is a truly impressive herb that earns the top position above ginseng in the Shen Nong Materia Medica, the oldest and most esteemed herbal text of Chinese medicine. The Shen Nong praises Reishi as “the most superior of all herbs”. Despite having such a wide-reaching action on the body, it is simply the herb’s ability to alleviate stress and calm the mind that makes it one of our favourite herbs to work with when wanting to improve our sleep!
Shop SuperFeast Reishi Powder and Reishi Capsules here.
The Ancient Wisdom of the Chinese Tonic Herbs by Ron Teeguarden
The Foundations of Chinese Medicine: Third Edition by Giovanni Maciocia
A Handbook of Chinese Healing Herbs by Daniel Reid