What is GABA, and will it help me fall asleep?

GABA is an amino acid that is naturally produced by your brain to calm your mind.  GABA isn’t one of the most well-known supplements, but it is effective and worth knowing about. In fact, many sleep aids seek to influence the body to produce more GABA. 

GABA is the commonly used acronym for Gamma-Aminobutyric acid, which is kind of a mouthful. What makes GABA unique and effective at helping you fall asleep is that GABA is a  neurotransmitter. In general, neurotransmitters help brain cells communicate to one another. GABA is what’s called an “inhibitory neurotransmitter,'' which basically means it blocks certain brain signals, lowering the activity of the nervous system.

Some of GABA effects on the body are increased relaxation and reduced stress. Balancing your mood also helps boost and improve your sleep. As mentioned earlier, there are many pharmaceutical medications that target GABA production in your brain, including barbiturates, antidepressants and benzodiazepines. These medications use GABA to alleviate pain and reduce stress in the body. Additionally, maybe natural herbal remedies act on the GABA system in the brain.

GABA can be found naturally in a variety of fermented foods as well as teas. So, you can introduce some of these items into your diet to naturally increase the amount of GABA in your body. 

The GABA dosage can vary, but it is used to improve sleep, treat high blood pressure, reduce anxiety, and stimulate your body’s natural growth hormone. 

In August 2015 GABA was deemed by the FDA to be that is safe for consumption. From that point on GABA has also been available as a dietary supplement.

If your brain is producing lower-than-average levels of GABA, it can really affect your sleep and this deficiency can even lead to anxiety and anxiety disorders

How does GABA work?

So...it turns out researchers haven’t figured out how it “works”. They do know however, what it does and how it acts. They know that your GABA receptors are important sites on brain cells where GABA binds. Once GABA binds to these receptors on a given nerve cell, this reduces the probability of the nerve cell it is “talking to” to fire. Broadly speaking, when neural activity is reduced in this manner, your body has less stress, anxiety, a calmer mood, and sleep comes more easily as a result. 

But they don’t yet precisely understand how those actions translate into the calm-induced sense of being. 

But don’t worry, the research is clear on the fact that GABA improves mood and reduces stress. There’s also evidence that it induces relaxation and diminishes anxiety.  Most importantly for us folks suffering from sleep troubles, GABA has been demonstrated to help people fall asleep faster and get more REM sleep.

These abilities of GABA are so well accepted that it’s sometimes referred to (amongst certain circles) as: “your brain’s brakes”. 

But GABA doesn’t just work in the brain alone. It also has been shown to function in the central nervous system and in other organs. That means its calming effects are both on your brain and throughout your body.

Side effects of using GABA to sleep

There can always be factors that can lead to negative side effects for any supplement, interactions with other medication and health related factors are amongst the most common. It’s important to speak to your doctor or healthcare provider first about taking new supplements if you’re currently taking medications to treat a medical condition. 

For most otherwise healthy adults seeking to address sleep issues, the benefits outweigh the possible side effects. In rare cases, GABA can cause:

  • Lowered appetite
  • Nausea
  • Burning throat
  • Drowsiness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Shortness of breath 

Since GABA does make you drowsy, you shouldn’t drive or operate machinery after taking your supplements. 

GABA benefits

Many people choose to take GABA for sleep. A low amount of GABA in the body is linked to disrupted sleep and insomnia. A lot of over-the-counter sleeping pills seek to increase GABA in the body. Limited research shows that fermented foods that increase GABA in the body can also decrease the amount of time that it takes to fall asleep and increase the amount of sleep you get. 

GABA for anxiety and stress can put your body in a higher state of relaxation. In some studies, GABA is effective in slowing down brain waves. Those taking this supplement also saw a boost in their immune system. So, GABA supplement benefits include alleviating mental stress as well.

GABA pills are also taken for high blood pressure. This is a natural way for people to lower their blood pressure, instead of relying on prescription pills. Using GABA can help your body maintain a healthy blood pressure. In fact, your blood pressure naturally drops throughout the night while you sleep. So, getting quality sleep helps you maintain a healthy blood pressure. Those that have poor sleep schedules and disorders can find themselves suffering from hypertension. 

GABA Dosage: How much GABA to take for sleep?

Depending on what you’re using GABA for, you’ll need to use different doses. These are just recommendations, you might have to tailor the dose for your needs. You should always start with the lowest dose and then increase slowly over time to find the right dose for you. 

Sleep, anxiety, and stress: 100-200 mg of GABA. 

Blood pressure: 10-20 mg

Low GABA and sleep issues:

If you have lowered GABA in your body, your brain can have a difficult time winding down. So, it is more difficult for your mind to drift off to sleep. Having only low amounts of GABA in your body can also increase your risk of insomnia. 

Can high GABA cause sleep problems?

Yes. There are reports of sleep disruptions when GABA is high and low in the body. High GABA has been linked to stress in children. Just because something is good for the body, doesn’t mean that we should over do it. So, there is such a thing as too much GABA in the body. 

What are GABA receptors?

GABA receptors will receive messages that help reduce or inhibit nerve impulses. Many anxiety medications bind to GABA receptors or potentiate GABA to slow down your body’s central nervous system. 

Supplements are seen as a less aggressive way to treat anxiety, stress, and sleep troubles. 

Is GABA effective by itself?

There is plenty of evidence showing the calming effects of GABA. That said, when it comes to sleep, there is a growing body of work providing evidence that GABA facilitates sleep more effectively when blended with other amino acids or other ingredients for example: blending GABA with L-theanine, GABA with 5-HTP, or with herbal extracts like Apocynum venetum leaf.

It used to be thought that GABA in supplement form does not readily cross the blood-brain barrier, a layer of semipermeable cells that separates the brain from circulating blood. However, recent studies indicate that GABA is bioavailable, but it tends to get cleared away from the brain faster than it is taken up. 

Lastly, It is easy for your body to get accustomed to sleep supplements. So, GABA is the most effective when it is used in rotation with other sleep solutions. 

Can I naturally boost GABA?

Taking GABA supplements is one of the most effective ways to raise the GABA levels in your body.  But, there are also a bunch of natural foods that also contain GABA. These include whole grains, and various beans, nuts, seeds, some seafood, green leafy vegetables and more.

You can also use aromatherapy to help enhance GABA effects in your body. For example, jasmine is very relaxing and has been shown to affect GABA’s performance in your body.

Yoga has also been shown to increase the amount of GABA in your body. If you think about this it makes perfect sense. Yoga is a mindful activity that focuses on relaxation. So, you are already lowering the stress in your mind and body by practicing yoga. Relaxing activities and GABA seem to go hand in hand. 

If you’re looking for a relaxing way to go to sleep, that isn’t habit forming, GABA could be your answer.