This dietary supplement is increasingly used as a sleep aid. Here’s how it works

This dietary supplement is increasingly used as a sleep aid. Here’s how it works

Quality rest is a vital factor in maintaining your mental and physical health, but the struggle to fall asleep is real. The CDC says 70 million Americans live with chronic sleep problems. Sleep supplements are a viable solution for promoting better rest, but some are prescribed sleeping aids can cause sleepiness the morning after and people claim that sleep supplements are like melatonin makes them grimace.

Enter gamma-aminobutyric acid.

It is an amino acid that occurs naturally in the body and has a calming effect. GABA is often taken as a dietary supplement, but there is evidence that it can be a good alternative to melatonin for sleep. It only affects the early stages of sleep and as a result leaves you feeling more awake in the morning. Although there is limited research, the small studies that have been conducted show positive results that show that GABA may be worth trying if you can’t sleep.

Here’s what we know about GABA, tips on how to take it, and why it might be a helpful sleep aid to consider if you’re having trouble falling asleep.

For extra help with a quality vacation, try these seven natural sleep aids for insomnia and how to create the perfect sleeping environment.


GABA is a neurotransmitter which are naturally found in the brain and even in some foods such as tomatoes and soy. It is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that blocks chemical signals in the central nervous system and reduces brain activity. GABA can help promote calmness in the body and helps regulate the hyperactivity of nerve cells when you feel fearful, anxious or stressed.

It is sold over the counter as a dietary supplement, but the effects of GABA can also benefit those who struggle to fall asleep.

How GABA Can Help You Sleep

Taken alone or with other natural sleep aids, GABA supplements can help with the problem anxiety, stress and an overactive brain, the three main offenders that make it difficult to fall asleep. Its calming effect puts the mind in a relaxed state, so you’re in the right space to drift off to sleep.

Low levels of GABA are actually associated with sleep deprivation, as well one study found that participants with insomnia had 30% lower levels of GABA in their systems. Others a small-scale study Frontiers in Neuroscience involving middle-aged adults found that taking 300 mg of GABA before bed for at least a week can reduce sleep latencies (the amount of time it takes to fall asleep).

There is no solid research showing that GABA helps with sleep efficiency (sleep quality and slow wave sleep), but study results have shown that it can promote sleepiness by affecting the early stages of sleep. Another advantage is that it will not leave you feeling sleepy the next morning as well as other over-the-counter medications such as ZzzQuil or prescription sleep medications.

Tips for taking GABA for sleep

1. GABA can be taken as a supplement or powder in food.

2. Take GABA 30 to 60 minutes before bed for best results (as studies have shown).

3. Follow the dosing instructions and track how much and how often you take GABA.

4. Use a sleep diary to document the quality of your sleep so you can identify patterns, possible side effects, and effectiveness of GABA.

5. GABA is found naturally in fermented foods such as kimchi, sourdough, sake and mulberry beer.

6. Always talk to your doctor before taking GABA or any new supplement.

GABA can also relieve anxiety and stress

Although research is still limited, more data supporting GABA as a stress and anxiety relief continues to appear. Although, relieving anxiety and stress before bed should not be taken lightly, as it can have a significant impact sleep latency and overall sleep quality.

Side effects of taking GABA

According to the Sleep Foundation, there are no serious side effects when you take GABA in low doses from sleep or dietary supplements. However, some consumers have reported experiencing abdominal pain or headaches. High levels of GABA in the brain are associated with daytime sleepiness, and a small number of people report feeling sleepy after taking GABA.

As with any new supplement, consult your doctor before taking GABA. Especially when taken in combination with other medications or prescriptions.

People at higher risk of a negative reaction to GABA include:

  • Pregnant women
  • Individuals under the age of 18
  • People taking prescriptions for high blood pressure
  • People taking anti-seizure medication

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care professional with any questions you may have about your health condition or health goals.

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