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

This dietary supplement is becoming increasingly popular 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 like melatonin makes them groggy.

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 to suggest that it may be a good sleep alternative to melatonin. It only affects the early stages of sleep and makes you feel more awake in the morning. Although there is limited research, the small studies that have been conducted provide positive results that show that GABA may be worth a try if you can’t sleep.

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

For extra help with quality rest, try this seven natural sleep aids for insomnia and how create the perfect sleeping environment.


GABA is a neurotransmitter it is found naturally 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 culprits 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 lack of sleep, e.g one study found that participants with insomnia had 30% lower levels of GABA in their systems. More a small 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 latency (the time it takes to fall asleep).

There is no solid research showing that GABA helps 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 won’t leave you feeling numb sleepy next morning such 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 shown by studies).

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

4. Use a sleep diary to document your sleep quality 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

While research is still limited, more data supports GABA as a stress and anxiety the reliever keeps coming up. Although, getting rid of 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 GABA is taken in low doses from sleep or dietary supplements. However, some consumers have reported stomach aches or headaches. High levels of GABA in the brain are associated with daytime sleepiness, and a small number of people report sleepiness after taking GABA.

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

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

  • Pregnant woman
  • Persons under 18 years of age
  • 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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