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How Do I Use GABA for Insomnia?

GABA supplements have little impact on insomnia, but there are drugs available that stimulate the production of the chemical.
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  • Written By: B. Koch
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2014
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GABA is a brain chemical that is involved in promoting calmness and relaxation. Individuals with insomnia have been associated with low GABA levels. Although GABA supplements are available, they have little effect on insomnia since these chemicals cannot cross the blood brain barrier. Instead of GABA supplements, drugs that stimulate the production of this chemical can be prescribed.

Gamma-aminobutyric acid, also known as GABA, is an amino acid that functions as a type of neuro transmitter in the brain. The brain uses GABA to calm and relax an active mind and to encourage rest and relaxation. Some individuals have especially low levels of GABA, which is thought to have a relationship to a number of symptoms and health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia. GABA supplements or drugs that stimulate GABA production have been used for individuals experiencing panic attacks, as well as epilepsy.

There is some evidence that GABA for insomnia may be beneficial. Studies have shown that GABA levels are 25 to 30 percent lower in individuals who experience insomnia. Not only does it work to shut down and calm the brain for sleep, it also encourages the brain to produce alpha waves and decrease beta waves, which together promote relaxation. Scientists do not yet know if low GABA levels are the cause of insomnia, or if insomnia is the cause of low GABA levels

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The effectiveness of taking GABA for insomnia is debatable. Although the link between GABA for insomnia is clear, and the ability of GABA supplements to pass the blood brain barrier is poor to impossible. Because of this, GABA supplements are rarely prescribed by doctors, but rather drugs that stimulate the creation of GABA are prescribed. These substances are often tranquilizers or sleep aids.

Although studies indicate GABA supplements do not cross the blood bran barrier, some doctors practicing alternative medicine continue to prescribe GABA for insomnia and anxiety. They often prescribe GABA in very high amounts, sometimes as much as 1000 mg daily, with the expectation that a small amount of the drug will pass though the blood brain barrier. Others claim that the effectiveness of GABA for insomnia is related entirely to the type of supplements used, that being that natural supplements are more effective that synthetic supplements.

Currently there are no known side effects of GABA supplements. There is some evidence that it may interact with other drugs that promote GABA production, such as sleep aids, muscle relaxants and tranquilizers. Usually between 10 to 20 milligram supplements are recommended, taken two to three times a day, up to three grams in one day. A doctor should be consulted before beginning any supplement regime.

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