If you have difficulty getting off to sleep, or wake up and cannot return to sleep, you may find it comforting to know that one in three people have some degree of insomnia, according to the Sleep Health Foundation. Much of the problem is due to a stressful lifestyle, but effective stress management using natural herbs and supplements can help.
Nutritionist Patrick Holford states in his book Optimum Nutrition for the Mind that every week Brits pop 10 million tranquillizers, smoke a similar number of cannabis joints and drink 120 million alcoholic drinks, often as a socially accepted form of stress management. This disturbing trio of alcohol, cannabis and tranquilizers all has one common ingredient – GABA – which is known to have a calming, soporific effect. Taking it in supplemental form has none of the alarming side effects that drugs and alcohol cause, but what is GABA, is it safe and how does it work?
How Does GABA Work for Stress Management
GABA stands for gamma-aminobutyric acid, an amino acid which acts as a natural relaxant and calming neurotransmitter in the brain. Our bodies produce GABA from glutamine and it is vital for proper brain function. GABA influences mood, producing endorphins that make us relaxed and happy. GABA deficiency is linked to insomnia and epilepsy as well as feelings of anxiety, stress and tension, so it has an important part to play in stress management.
Research shows that GABA increases the production of alpha brain waves, similar to a state of meditation during yoga, for example. It also reduces beta waves which are associated with nervous tension and hyperactivity. These wave patterns can be measured using an electroencephalogram (EEG). People who are stressed have high levels of beta waves, and GABA helps restore the balance. This natural calming effect makes GABA an excellent natural answer for stress management as well as for insomnia.
Chronic Stress Lowers GABA
Low natural levels of GABA may be caused by a lack of glutamine, low levels of B vitamins, zinc, iron and manganese, or by chronic stress. A simple saliva or urine test can show whether you are producing sufficient GABA.
High amounts of caffeine, excessive exposure to electromagnetic radiation, low levels of progesterone and chronic pain can all reduce GABA levels in the body. Ironically, lack of sleep also lowers GABA levels, which in turn means you cannot sleep the following night. This sets up a vicious circle on insomnia. Taking GABA supplements can break the cycle, particularly for those suffering with stress-related insomnia.
How Much GABA to Take?
Taking 500 mg of GABA once or twice a day can significantly support stress management. For stress-related insomnia, taking 100 mg about 30 minutes before bedtime will help you feel sleepy and relaxed. However, GABA should not be mixed with alcohol, drugs containing barbiturates, anti-anxiety medications or benzodiazepine tranquillizers, so check with your doctor if you are already taking other prescription drugs.