The world’s (and my) obsession with sleep and sleep hygiene continues. From sleep temperature to sleep positions, many people still struggle with getting their rest and staying asleep.
Naturally, many are on a quest to find an antidote that relaxes your mind and body and promotes a faster, deeper sleep. If this sounds like you, GABA just might be the next best thing to help you get some shuteye. In addition to helping with your circadian rhythm and sleep regulation, GABA has also been recommended for managing anxiety and helping with stress regulation, memory enhancement, mood, and even perception of pain. When you understand that popular sleep meds like Ambien actually work to increase GABA’s effect in the brain but don’t actually contain any GABA, it makes sense to go directly to the source.
So What Is GABA?
GABA is the brain’s main inhibitory neurotransmitter. Produced naturally in our brain and body, it balances out excitatory neurotransmitters like glutamine, relaxes cells, and prevents reactivity. It has a calming effect on our central nervous system and studies have shown it has stress-reducing and sleep-enhancing effects.
The Connection Between GABA, Insomnia, And Poor Sleep
GABA helps with sleep because it plays an important role in the creation of the sleep hormone melatonin. It helps convert serotonin into n-acetylserotonin (NAS), which then transforms into melatonin to induce sleep.
The causes of poor sleep and insomnia are different for everyone, but insufficient or unstable levels of GABA are thought to be connected for many people. This is because low levels of GABA cause neurons to fire too often and too rapidly, ultimately leading to difficulty calming down, resting, or switching off. A 2008 study showed that average brain GABA levels were nearly 30% lower in patients with primary insomnia.
Is GABA The Answer To Better Sleep?
To understand how GABA can help with sleep, we need to define the impact it has on the body and brain. Benefits include:
Falling Asleep (a reduction in sleep latency)
Studies show that GABA supplements may make it easier to fall asleep by helping to slow down brain activity and drift off. Japanese researchers supplemented participants with GABA-infused water and looked at their brains under an EEG scan. GABA significantly increased their relaxing (alpha) brain waves and decreased their beta waves (energizing) compared to just dosing with water or l-theanine supplements (more on l-theanine later). This suggests that GABA can shift you into a ‘sleep-ready’ state more effectively than not taking GABA supplements. Another study reported reduced sleep latency. The report stated that it takes around 13.4 minutes without GABA and 5.7 minutes with GABA supplementation.
Other studies support this finding, too. Research out of Japan demonstrated that GABA had beneficial effects on sleep when paired with Apocynum venetum leaf extract, a popular plant in traditional Chinese medicine. It reduced ‘falling asleep time’ by 5.3 minutes on average.
More Restful And Deeper Sleep (sleep depth and restfulness)
GABA can also help you stay asleep and experience a more restful slumber. A study found that GABA increased time spent in REM sleep. Participants also reported their improved sleep felt more refreshing and had them feeling better the next day.
Do I Have To Supplement GABA Or Can I Get It Naturally?
GABA can be created through exercising and a healthy diet. GABA is present naturally in many foods like tea, tomatoes, soybeans, rice, and some fermented foods. It can also be produced via a consistent relaxation practice like qi gong, meditation, or breathwork. A combination of these practices can help support healthy GABA levels.
However, if you need a calming antidote or some additional help with sleep, a high-quality supplemental GABA produced by way of fermentation is the best option.
GABA, via fermentation, is created by the bacteria Lactobacillus hilgardii. There is evidence suggesting that supplementing with PharmaGABA®, which is created through this fermentation process, increases the likelihood of GABA entering the brain through the blood-brain barrier. This is important to support the effectiveness of your supplementation decision.
GABA can also be combined with other sleep-inducing supplements. A 2002 animal study found that giving rats both GABA and L-Arginine increased the amount of GABA in the brain by four times. More recently, researchers in Korea showed an improvement in the sleep of mice when they gave them a combination of GABA and L-theanine. They found that the time it took to fall asleep and the total sleep duration both improved and the effect was better than if either was taken alone. So, consider dosing your GABA with L-Arginine or L-Theanine to increase the impact of GABA.
A great formulation that combines GABA with L-Theanine is the Quicksilver Scientific Liposomal formula - shop it here.
What Can I Do To Increase My GABA Levels Naturally?
If you want to naturally stimulate your GABA levels, look at your diet. Switch your coffee for green tea for a hit of L-Theanine. Increase your fresh vegetable (broccoli and spinach) and fruit (bananas and berries) intake, up fermented foods (sauerkraut, yogurt), and add lentils, beans, brown rice, halibut, and shrimp.
Other supplements supporting GABA creation include taurine, magnesium, and vitamin B6 and zinc, alongside a healthy dose of cardiovascular exercise.
When Should I Take GABA?
Research suggests an hour before bed is the best time to take GABA. One trial showed that GABA slowed brain waves after 60 minutes of ingesting it. However, additional research completed in 2016 found that it can kick in faster and reach the highest levels in the blood in just 30 minutes. As always, dosing may vary from person to person and work out what is best for you after consulting your doctor first.
Tips For Optimizing The Sleep Benefits Of GABA
There are no standardized dosing regulations for GABA, but 100 milligrams is the most commonly studied amount. Other small-scale studies have shown that taking 300 milligrams of GABA before bed for several weeks was well-tolerated and reduced the time required to fall asleep. Evidence and research suggest taking GABA supplements for at least one week to influence stress levels and sleep.
We can supplement with GABA to help with sleep, but looking into the root cause of why your body is not creating enough of it is the most important place to start. Look into:
Your gut health: A disordered microbiome is a major cause of low GABA production.
Chronic stress: A state of stress will increase cortisol, norepinephrine, and epinephrine which will reduce GABA production. It will also ramp up the production of free radicals, which further reduces GABA production. Over time, this can turn into a chronic deficit in GABA.
Blood sugar regulation and nutrient deficiencies including low zinc, vitamin B6, magnesium, taurine, and glutamine levels.
If you decide to supplement with GABA while determining the root cause of your sleep challenges, always source a high-quality GABA supplement and consult your doctor prior to starting a new supplement protocol.
***THESE STATEMENTS HAVE NOT BEEN APPROVED OR REGULATED BY THE FDA. WE ARE NOT DOCTORS, THEREFORE ALWAYS CONSULT WITH YOUR DOCTOR FIRST***