Is GABA the Answer to Restful Sleep?

Recently, I had a patient ask me about the possibility of using a GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) supplement instead of continuing the use of the sleep medication prescribed by her physician. Usually, when people want to talk about supplements for sleep, the conversation is focused on taking melatonin, but GABA is starting to get some notice as more research is being done.

What Is GABA?

GABA is a naturally occurring amino acid produced in the brain. In addition, you may have seen it on the shelf in supplement form in the health section of your local or online store. GABA functions as an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system where 60-75% of the nerve cell connections (synapses) need GABA to regulate and lower the activity of nerve cells and brain circuits. Therefore, the presence of GABA leads to more relaxation, fewer stress-like feelings, increased calmness, and better sleep.

Studies show that low levels of GABA—or impaired functioning of GABA—are associated with the causes of acute and chronic stress, anxiety disorders, and sleep disturbances. One study showed that compared to healthy sleepers, those with insomnia had almost 30% lower levels of GABA, implying that GABA was a potential cause of the poor sleep quality.

Another study from 2018 revealed that by taking a GABA supplement one hour before bedtime, subjects fell asleep much faster compared to a control group after just four weeks of use. Therefore, GABA may be an alternative for patients who have trouble initiating sleep and with early stages of sleep—as it appears to lengthen Non-REM sleep.

In short, GABA helps calm the body and brain and assists us in falling asleep more easily and sleeping more restfully.

Jonathan A. Parker, DDS

Co-founder, Sleep Performance Institute

NOTE: If you are struggling with a sleep challenge, it is important to take a journey of self-discovery to explore the nature of your personal circadian rhythm and how it may affect your sleep quality. Trouble falling asleep? Trouble staying asleep? Not waking up refreshed in the morning? Each individual has unique sleep and needs a customized strategy to help them sleep better. The SPI Sleep Journey App, available in the Apple App Store and on Android, can help. It can help you discover and master great sleep.

For answers to any of your questions about sleep, please visit our website or connect with us at Sleep Performance Institute.

SPI Disclaimer

The information in this blog is not providing you a diagnosis or treatment for your sleep problem and it is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your sleep, health, or a medical condition. SPI recommends that prior to pursuing any suggestions made in this post, you review all information regarding any health issue, sleep problem, or treatment with your physician. All content, including text, graphics, images, and information, contained on or available through this blog post is for general sleep information purposes only. You are encouraged to confirm any information obtained from or through this post with your physician and other qualified sources. External (outbound) links to other websites or educational material (e.g. pdf’s etc.) that are not explicitly created by SPI are followed at your own risk. Under no circumstances is SPI responsible for the claims of third-party websites or educational providers.