Your Guide to GABA for Sleep

Table of Contents
GABA for sleep

Getting better rest can feel like a hot commodity, and there’s no shortage of natural remedies and supplements claiming to help. Enter one of the newest pairings of interest: GABA for sleep. 

GABA is a neurotransmitter (brain chemical) made in your brain. Some people say that taking it in supplement form helps them feel more relaxed and prepared for bed since they experience a reduction in stress and anxiety

We examined how GABA works to potentially promote better sleep, including what the research says about its effectiveness and the best ways to use it. 

Note: The content on Sleepopolis is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t be taken as medical advice, and it shouldn’t take the place of medical advice and supervision from a trained professional. If you feel you may be suffering from any sleep disorder or medical condition, please see your healthcare provider immediately. Additionally, restrictions and regulations on supplements may vary by location. If you ever have any questions or concerns about a product you’re using, contact your doctor.

Long Story Short

  • GABA is a brain chemical that helps calm you down.
  • Some people find that adding a GABA supplement to their bedtime routine helps them get better sleep. Theoretically it makes sense, however, research on how well it actually works is mixed, and some studies suggest it may have more of a placebo effect.
  • The best way to use GABA for better sleep is alongside other sleep hygiene practices, like creating a relaxing sleep environment and following a consistent sleep-wake schedule.

What is GABA? 

GABA, short for gamma-aminobutyric acid, is a brain chemical with inhibitory functions. It essentially acts like a soft brake, regulating how much activity your neurons have and keeping them from firing excessively. In other words, when GABA is at work calming your neurons, this helps you feel less restless, irritable, and anxious, and may help you have an easier time going to sleep. (1) (2)

What exactly is a neuron?

Neurons are specialized cells in your nervous system (which houses your brain and spinal cord) that are responsible for sending information through electrical and chemical signals. They form complex networks so they can talk to different parts of your body and are involved in various functions.

Some research suggests that having imbalanced GABA levels may be a factor in brain-related issues like anxiety disorders, seizure disorders, and sleep disorders. (3) (4) (5)

How GABA May Benefit Sleep

GABA receptors are located all over your central nervous system. When GABA binds to its receptors, it acts sort of like a sedative for neurons, making them less active. This helps alleviate anxiety and stress and may help encourage sleep. (1)

We know that the GABA your body makes on its own is important for your ability to relax. Plus, studies show that low GABA activity is associated with insomnia. (5) But what does the research say about taking supplemental GABA for sleep?

In one older 2016 study, researchers evaluated the effects of GABA on sleep by using electroencephalography (EEG) after oral GABA administration. An EEG measures electrical activity in different parts of the brain. They found that GABA helped people fall asleep much quicker and increased the total non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep time, which is important for physical and mental restoration. (6)

Other studies have found the positive effects of GABA on sleep to be even greater when it’s combined with other sleep-promoting compounds, including L-theanine (an amino acid found in green tea), Apocynum venetum leaf extract, and 5-hydroxytryptophan or 5-HTP (an amino acid that may raise levels of serotonin in the brain) (7) (8) (9).

On the other hand, a 2020 systematic review showed that taking GABA can help people fall asleep, but may not help them stay asleep through the night. That’s because GABA has been thought to have more of an impact on the early stages of sleep, rather than those that occur later into the night. (10)

So, when GABA is working its magic in your brain, you’re less likely to be disturbed and spend more time in slow-wave sleep (also called delta sleep or deep sleep). This is a stage of sleep during the first half of your sleep cycle when your body undergoes repair and rejuvenation it needs for things like filing away your memories, hormone regulation, and immune function. (11)

Interestingly, Kimberley Wiemann, MS, RDN says, “It’s believed that GABA does not pass through the blood-brain barrier, which may imply that some of the benefits seen from oral GABA use may be related to the placebo effect.” (10)  

Kristin Draayer, MS, RD agrees, saying, “Most ingested GABA does not significantly reach the brain, so it’s difficult to determine the mechanism by which supplementation works.” (2) She continues, “Many human studies have focused on foods with GABA rather than just [GABA supplementation]. This makes it hard to tell if the sleep benefits are from GABA alone or something else in the food.” (10)

Still, GABA doesn’t just impact your central nervous system. It can also work through your peripheral nervous system to some extent, which is all of the nerves outside of your brain and spinal cord. In fact, GABA receptors are found in places like your gut, blood vessels, uterus, thyroid, bladder, heart, and more, suggesting that even if much of it doesn’t reach the brain, it still has plenty of opportunities to act on your body. (12)

How to Take GABA for Sleep

You can find GABA supplements sold as tablets, powders, gummies, and capsules. Which is best mostly depends on personal preference, but gummies may contain added sugar, which is something to consider. Melissa Mitri, MS, RD, Nutrition Writer and Owner of Melissa Mitri Nutrition says, “If you dislike swallowing pills in the evening, you can mix powder in with water or some herbal tea for a relaxing bedtime ritual.”

As for when to take it to improve sleep, Wiemann says, “When taken orally, GABA concentrations rise rapidly within the first 30 minutes and then begin to drop. This explains why it may be more beneficial for falling asleep, rather than staying asleep.” (6)

How much should you take? It depends. Mitri says that there’s no standard dose set for taking GABA for sleep, but the most studied doses range from 100 to 300 mg. Some experts suggest increasing gradually as tolerated up to 500 mg but under the supervision of a healthcare professional. More research is needed to determine the ideal amount. Regardless, always follow the directions on the supplement label to avoid taking more than intended. (10)(13

Finally, remember that improving your sleep will always require a combination of approaches — not just the addition of one supplement. 

If you’re interested in trying GABA for sleep, use it with other good sleep hygiene habits, like creating a sleep-promoting environment in your bedroom, following a consistent sleep-wake schedule, and avoiding large meals, caffeine, super intense exercise, and screens right before bed. “Setting the tone for a relaxing winddown routine can help optimize the effects of GABA for sleep,” notes Mitri. (14)

Tips for Optimizing GABA for Sleep

When taking GABA in hopes of improving your sleep, there are a few things you can do to help optimize its safety and effectiveness: 

  • Safety first. Purchase GABA (and any supplements) from a reputable provider. Ideally, choose a product that has been third-party tested for purity and quality (it will have a seal on the bottle indicating such). Examples include but are not limited to NSF International, USP, and ConsumerLab.
  • Read reviews. See what other people think about certain products and brands. Hearing the experiences of others regarding tolerance, side effects, quality, and even customer service issues can help you choose one. Just be sure to do your due diligence, as some brands pay for positive reviews or rely on computer-generated responses. 
  • Track its effectiveness. One way to see whether GABA is working for your sleep is to keep a log of your experience. Write down how long you slept, whether you woke a lot through the night, and how well-rested you felt in the morning.
  • Eat more GABA-containing foods. Draayer recommends eating more foods throughout the day that naturally provide some GABA, such as tea, whole grains, walnuts, almonds, and fermented foods like yogurt. (15)
  • Speak with a healthcare provider. Discussing GABA (or any new supplement) with a knowledgeable professional before starting it is a good idea, especially if you have pre-existing conditions or are taking other medications and supplements. This can help ensure it’s appropriate for you to use while also bringing attention to other potential reasons for poor sleep.

Other Benefits of GABA

In addition to supporting sleep, GABA may also have other benefits, though research is mixed: 

  • Easing feelings of anxiety: GABA’s calming effects may help reduce symptoms of anxiety and promote relaxation for some people. (3)
  • Stress management: GABA may help improve your body’s ability to respond to stressors. (16)
  • Improved mood: GABA activity has been linked to better mood, potentially offering support for mental health concerns like depression. (17)
  • Seizure management: GABAergic drugs (drugs that promote GABA activity) are commonly used in the treatment of epilepsy to reduce seizure activity. (4)
  • Blood pressure regulation: GABA may help support normal blood pressure, potentially offering heart health benefits. (10)
  • Pain management: GABAergic activity (when GABA is working in your brain to relax you) has been associated with pain management. (18)
  • Addiction support: GABAergic drugs are sometimes used in addiction treatment programs to help manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings. (19)
  • Brain protection: GABA may help protect brain function as you age. (20)

Potential Side Effects of GABA Supplements

While GABA supplements are considered safe for most healthy people when taken at recommended doses, they may have side effects like: (13)

  • Drowsiness: GABA’s calming effects may cause drowsiness, especially if taken in high doses or used with other substances that make you sleepy.
  • Nausea: Some people experience digestive complaints like nausea after taking GABA.
  • Headaches: Headaches are reported by some people.
  • Irritability: In rare cases, GABA may increase anxiety or agitation in people who are more sensitive to it.

GABA Interactions with Other Medications

It’s possible that GABA could interact with medications or be riskier during certain seasons of life, like: (13)

  • Sleep aids: Combining GABA supplements with substances that make you sleepy may  cause excessive drowsiness or trouble thinking clearly.
  • Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications: GABA may interact with these in a way that increases their risk of side effects.
  • Blood pressure medication: GABA is calming and may reduce blood pressure, so it’s important to monitor your blood pressure, especially if you also take antihypertensive medications.
  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding: The safety of GABA supplements during pregnancy and breastfeeding has not been established, so it’s best to only use them under the supervision of a healthcare provider.

When to Talk to a Doctor

If you’re having trouble sleeping, it’s always a good idea to talk to your provider before purchasing or adding a supplement to your routine. They can help you identify underlying factors disrupting your sleep that you can focus on and determine whether adding GABA for sleep is worth a shot. 


Is GABA or magnesium better for sleep?

The effectiveness of GABA or magnesium for sleep can vary depending on individual factors and underlying sleep issues. While both can promote relaxation, speaking with a healthcare professional can help determine which may be better for your specific concerns. (21)

Are GABA and L-theanine the same thing?

No, GABA and L-theanine are not the same. They both can promote relaxation and play a role in regulating anxiety, but they work through different mechanisms. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, while L-theanine is an amino acid in tea leaves that can increase levels of other brain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin to help calm you. (22)

The Last Word From Sleepopolis 

When you’re not sleeping well, it’s tempting to try anything. GABA is a popular supplement shown to have relaxing properties. But is taking GABA helpful for sleep? The short answer is: maybe, but more research is needed to know for sure. However, if you want to try it, it’s unlikely to pose a risk of severe side effects for most people when taken as directed and under the advice of a healthcare provider. 


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          Wiemann, Kimberly. Personal interview. May 3, 2024.

          Draayer, Kristin. Personal interview. May 3, 2024. 

          Mitri, Melissa. Personal interview. May 3, 2024. 

Lauren Panoff

Lauren Panoff

Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD is a Colorado-based health and nutrition writer who has been published with a number of trusted wellness platforms. She is a dietitian who specializes in plant-based living, as well as a mother of two humans and a dog.