What Is GABA? Here's Why This Supplement Has Been Tied to Better Sleep
This blog has not been approved by your local health department and is not intended to provide diagnosis, treatment, or medical advice.
In this article:
- What Is Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA)?
- Different Forms of GABA
- How Does GABA Work?
- Research on PharmaGABA™ And Improved Sleep
Updated August 2022 / Originally Posted 2017
With the growing concern regarding the severe side effects of prescription and over-the-counter sleeping pills, consumers need to look to natural, safe, and effective products to improve sleep quality.
A study with the natural form of GABA showed it produces excellent results in helping people get a good night's sleep.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a major neurotransmitter that is abundantly and widely distributed throughout the central nervous system (CNS). GABA functions as one of the brain's most important regulators of proper function.
Insufficient levels of GABA can produce poor sleep quality, anxiety, depression, and, in some cases, epilepsy and other brain or neurological issues.1
Medications commonly prescribed for anxiety or sleep help work by increasing GABA's actions in the brain. However, because many of these medications are addictive and produce numerous side effects, they are often unsuitable for continued use.
Taking a dietary supplement form of GABA is an obvious method to try and boost GABA effects in the brain. But it is not that simple. First, the form of GABA is important to consider. Synthetic GABA has shown that it does not produce the same benefits as natural forms of GABA such as PharmaGABA™.1,2
Synthetic forms of GABA are produced from pyrrolidinone, an industrial solvent that is not safe for humans. In contrast, PharmaGABA™ is made through a natural fermentation process with the help of Lactobacillus hilgardii – a probiotic bacteria used to make kimchi, the fermented vegetable dish popular in Korean cuisine.
Detailed clinical studies have shown PharmaGABA™ to produce a variety of effects in promoting the feeling of calmness, but with increased mental focus and improved thinking.1
PharmaGABA™ promotes relaxation by:
- Activating the parasympathetic nervous system
- Increasing the alpha to beta brainwave ratio.
- Reducing markers of stress, including cortisol levels.
PharmaGABA™ Activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System. Once ingested, PharmaGABA™ is easily absorbed and binds to GABA receptors in the gastrointestinal tract that feed into the peripheral nervous system to transfer this information to the brain. The brain processes this information in a way that leads to activating the parasympathetic nervous system. While activating the sympathetic nervous system produces feelings of stress and the well-known "fight or flight" response, activating the parasympathetic nervous system produces the "relaxation response." Studies have shown taking PharmaGABA™ activates the parasympathetic nervous system within 5 to 30 minutes.3 This effect comes in handy in helping people deal with feelings of stress as well as preparation for a good night's sleep.
PharmaGABA™ has shown an ability to promote improved sleep, especially with continued use. In one study with PharmaGABA™, 38 senior-aged subjects were given 100 mg of PharmaGABA™ or a placebo for four weeks. Salivary cortisol levels were measured as a stress indicator, and a questionnaire survey about sleep and quality of life (QOL) was conducted. The PharmaGABA™ group showed only a small rise in cortisol levels after 2 and 4 weeks, while the placebo group showed a significant increase in cortisol.
The questionnaire survey showed an improvement in the quality of sleep. In the PharmaGABA™ group, people experienced getting to sleep more easily, reduced nighttime awakenings, less drowsiness in the morning, and improved recovery. People in the PharmaGABA™ group also experienced a reduced frequency of nighttime urination.4
Even a single administration of PharmaGABA™ has shown to improve sleep. Another double-blind study assessed brain wave patterns through electroencephalography (EEG) after subjects took 100 mg of PharmaGABA™ or a placebo.5 The results demonstrated that PharmaGABA™ significantly shortened the time required to get to sleep by five minutes and increased the time of quality sleep compared to the placebo. Questionnaires showed that subjects receiving PharmaGABA™ had improved sleep, especially noted by their higher energy scores upon awakening.
The study also measured the blood level of GABA after the administration of PharmaGABA. Results showed that the GABA was quickly absorbed, and the blood level of GABA was the highest 30 minutes after oral administration. The researchers felt that taking GABA 30 minutes before bedtime offers the best effects on promoting restful sleep.
Several proposed mechanisms were offered to explain the positive effects, including the sleep-improving effect of PharmaGABA™, but the most likely mechanism is via its activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. Another study showed PharmaGABA™ lowers core body temperature slightly via parasympathetic system activation. Lowering core body temperature is another factor that promotes improved sleep.1
GABA can be used to improve sleep quality as well as whenever feeling a bit "stressed out." To promote a better night's sleep, it is suggested to take 100 to 200 mg at bedtime.
PharmaGABA does not have any known adverse drug interaction. As a general guideline, it is recommended to take no more than 600 mg within a 6-hour period and no more than 1,200 mg within 24 hours.
The key to getting results with GABA is to utilize the natural form, like PharmaGABA™, derived from a fermentation process. The synthetic form has not been shown to produce the same benefits.
- Hepsomali P, Groeger JA, Nishihira J, Scholey A. Effects of Oral Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) Administration on Stress and Sleep in Humans: A Systematic Review. Front Neurosci. 2020;14:923.
- Abdoua AM; Higashiguchia S, Horiea K, et al. Relaxation and immunity enhancement effects of Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) administration in humans. BioFactors 2006;26:201–208
- Fujibayashi M, Kamiya T, Takagaki K, Moritani T. Activation of autonomic nervous system activity by the oral ingestion of GABA. J Jpn Soc Nutr Food Sci 2008:61:129-133.
- Yamatsu A, Takeshima K, Yamane T, et al. Beneficial action of GABA on sleep and frequent night urination in the elderly. Japanese Pharmacology and Therapeutics. 2013;41:985-988.
- Yamatsu A, Yamashita Y, Pandharipande T, Maru I, Kim M. Effect of oral γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) administration on sleep and its absorption in humans. Food Sci Biotechnol. 2016 Apr 30;25(2):547-551.