GABA (gamma amino butyric acid) is considered the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. It regulates neuronal excitability and muscle tone.1
GABA is synthesized from glutamate (using vitamin B6 as a cofactor). GABA is Interestingly, while glutamate is the brain’s main excitatory neurotransmitter,2 GABA “puts the brakes” on in the brain, helping to control overstimulation.
Specifically, GABA blocks the release of dopamine, which sends messages that cause anxiety.3 In this way, GABA stops your brain from sending messages that rile you up, and instead promotes messages of calm and relaxation.
This mechanism makes GABA effective for reducing anxiety, improving the immune system response, and improving sleep quality. It also helps to balance brain function.
Conditions Supported by GABA
What Does the Research Say?
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a common option for people who have insomnia. Activation of GABA(A) receptors promotes relaxation and sleep. However, the link between GABA deficiency and insomnia has been difficult to establish.
In a study published in November 2008, researchers found that GABA levels were reduced up to 30 percent in people suffering from insomnia for six months or more. Additionally, low levels were correlated to more waking after the onset of sleep.4 (Similarly, GABA is also reduced in major depression and anxiety disorders.)
GABA is especially helpful in those who “can’t turn their brains off” at night.
Given this, it’s not surprising that several GABA-agonists including zolpidem (Ambien®) and temazepam (Restoril®) are prescribed to treat insomnia.5
GABA administration has been shown to increase alpha waves and decrease beta waves on electroencephalograms (EEG), indicating relaxation.6 GABA may promote sleep in individuals with stress-related insomnia.
How to Use GABA
The commonly recommended dosage for GABA (for stress and anxiety) is 500 mg once or twice a day. For insomnia, aim for 100 mg of GABA about 30 minutes before bedtime.
- Watanabe M, et al. Int Rev Cytol. 2002; 213:1-47.
- Petroff OA. Neuroscientist. 2002;8(6):562-73.
- Lydiard RB. J Clin Psychiatry. 2003;64 Suppl 3:21-7.
- Winkelman JW. Sleep. 2008;31(11):1499-506.
- Gunja N. J Med Toxicol. 2013 Mar 2. [Epub ahead of print.]
- Abdou AM, et al. Biofactors 2006;26:201-8.