This dietary supplement is making its way as a sleeping pill.  Here's how it works

Skip melatonin? This dietary supplement can also help you sleep

Quality rest is vital to maintaining your mental and physical health, but the struggle to fall asleep is real for the 70 million Americans who live with chronic sleep problems. When you’ve tried every sleep remedy in the book, from bedtime yoga to melatonin, and you don’t seem to feel sleepy at night, this supplement might do the trick.

Enter gamma-aminobutyric acid.

It is an amino acid naturally present in the body and which promotes a calming effect. GABA is often taken as a dietary supplement, but it has a track record that it can be a good alternative to the melatonin sleeping pill. It only affects the early stages of sleep and therefore leaves you more awake in the morning, when some people claim popular sleep supplements like melatonin makes them groggy. Although the research is limited, the small studies that have been done show positive results that show that GABA may be worth trying if you can’t fall asleep.

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

For more help getting quality rest, try these seven natural sleeping pills for insomnia and how create the perfect environment for sleeping.

What is GABA?

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GABA is a neurotransmitter found naturally in the brain and even in certain foods like 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 nerve cell overactivity in times of fear, anxiety, or stress.

It is sold without a prescription as a dietary supplement, but the effects of GABA may also benefit those who have trouble falling asleep.

The science behind GABA for sleep

Taken alone or with other natural sleep aids, GABA supplements help with anxiety, stress, and overactive brain, 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 frame of mind to fall asleep.

Low levels of GABA have actually been linked to sleep deprivation, as one study found that participants with insomnia had 30% lower levels of GABA in their systems. Another small-scale study conducted by Frontiers in Neuroscience and involving middle-aged adults found that taking 300 mg of GABA before bedtime for at least a week can reduce sleep latency (the time 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 showed that it may promote drowsiness because it affects the early stages of sleep. Another benefit is that it won’t leave you feeling drowsy the next morning like other over-the-counter medications such as ZzzQuil or prescription sleeping pills.

6 tips for taking GABA for sleep

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

2. Take GABA 30-60 minutes before bed for best results (as studies show).

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

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

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

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

Other Benefits of GABA

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

Side effects of taking GABA

According to the Sleep Foundation, there are no serious side effects when taking GABA in small doses from sleep or dietary supplements. However, some consumers have reported experiencing abdominal pain or headaches. High levels of GABA in the brain are linked to 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 conjunction with other medications or prescriptions.

People most at risk of having a negative reaction to GABA include:

  • Pregnant women
  • Individuals under the age of 18
  • People who take prescriptions for high blood pressure
  • People taking anti-epileptic drugs

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

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