Raise your hand if you love to sleep! Now, raise your hand if sleep is the first thing you give up when important things need to be done. As naturopathic medical students, sleep is one of the first things that we explore when it comes to addressing chronic concerns, and yet usually we ourselves are the first ones to evade it when it comes time to cram for exams and finish up assignments. Students aren’t the only ones, unfortunately. New parents give up their sleep to care for their newborn babies, teens and adolescents pull all-nighters to talk with their friends and play video games, and shift workers such as nurses, doctors, firefighters, security guards, and police officers work while everyone else is sleeping to ensure the safety of their communities. While most of these reasons are noble and unavoidable, the lack of sleep results in imbalances throughout the body.
There are several functions of sleep. Firstly, sleep is restorative. It provides downtime for the body to repair cells and muscles, promote tissue growth and protein synthesis, and allow for the release of many important growth hormones. Second, sleep is important for cognitive function. Good sleep allows us to have proper attention-maintaining ability, sharp decision making, and allows us to convert short term memories into long term memories. Finally, sleep is for energy conservation. During sleep, our body is given a break and the energy demand is much lower. Our temperature decreases and our calorie demands are significantly decreased, allowing the body to store energy for the next day.[i]
As much as people love their sleep, sometimes it is not always an option. Not everyone can have a full 8-9 hours of sleep or sleep at the right time. In those cases, supplementation can come in handy. The first thing most people think about when it comes to sleep aids are sleeping pills or melatonin, but have you ever thought about mushrooms, specifically Ganoderma lucidum, aka Reishi?
There are two theories on how this robust mushroom can help with sleep. The first is the stimulation of the GABA-ergic receptors, meaning the Ganoderma lucidum extract (GLE) acts like GABA (a potent inhibitory neurotransmitter) to promote a parasympathetic state or rest and relaxation[ii]. The second theory involves the gut microbiota and the serotonin pathway. While the brain makes some, 90% of the serotonin in our body is produced by our gut microbiome. Serotonin is another potent neurotransmitter and one of its main functions is to promote sleep regulation. Ganoderma lucidium alcohol extract (GLAA) has been shown to provide the gut microbiome with nutrients to stay healthy and produce more serotonin[iii]. It is also important to note that there is a huge association between mood and sleep. A lack of serotonin can greatly affect our mood, as one can attest when they don’t get enough sleep.
Disclaimer: while herbs and plants are readily available to consume, please consult with your Naturopathic physician, medical doctor, or licenced herbalist before taking any of the mentioned herbs medicinally as there can be interactions with medications as well as contraindications that may result in harm. If you or a loved one is suffering from a mental disorder, contact the Call 310-Mental Health at 310-6789 (no area code needed) anytime day or night.
By Angeli Santos -- BA Psyc and 4th Year Student of Naturopathic Medicine, CCNM-Boucher
[i] Physiopedia. (n.d.) Sleep: Theory, Function, and Physiology. Retrieved from: https://www.physio-pedia.com/Sleep:_Theory,_Function_and_Physiology
[ii] Chu QP, Wang LE, Cui XY, Fu HZ, Lin ZB, Lin SQ, Zhang YH. Extract of Ganoderma lucidum potentiates pentobarbital-induced sleep via a GABAergic mechanism. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2007 Apr;86(4):693-8. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2007.02.015. Epub 2007 Feb 22. PMID: 17383716.
[iii] Yao, C., Wang, Z., Jiang, H. et al. Ganoderma lucidum promotes sleep through a gut microbiota-dependent and serotonin-involved pathway in mice. Sci Rep 11, 13660 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-92913-6