What’s GABA (And Why Do I Need It)?
When it comes to improving sleep, tips such as avoiding staring at screens at night and consuming caffeine might spring to mind. The benefits of these sleep techniques and others that we write about in Leapfrog’s Journal posts should not themselves be slept upon – the sleep science is strong. However, when it comes to looking at the chemical makeup of the brain, there is one star of the show that takes the lead for calming the mind and inducing sleep. Enter GABA.
What is GABA?
Gamma-aminobutyric acid, more commonly referred to as GABA, is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter produced in the body (1). The role of GABA is to counteract the effects of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate and so GABA acts like a calming brake for an overactive mind. We feel the calming and relaxing effects of GABA when it binds to GABA receptors in the brain, mainly the GABA-A receptor. This binding allows channels in the receptor to open, allowing chloride ions to flow into the neuron. These ions hyperpolarize the neuron and prevent hyperexcitation of brain cells. In doing so, anxiety and sleep disorders are curbed.
GABA for Anxiety and Sleep
There is a vast amount of evidence in scientific literature that suggests alterations and irregularities in the GABA system are related to the development of anxiety disorders: disorders characterised by bouts of excessive worrying (2). One study found that orally administered GABA increased alpha waves and decreased beta waves in the brain in comparison to water and green tea. As high levels of alpha and low levels of beta are indicators of relaxation and the absence of stress, the findings suggest that higher GABA levels are associated with a decrease in anxiety (3). Through this mechanism GABA also helps improve our quality of sleep since anxiety and worrying can be a huge obstacle to achieving peaceful and restorative sleep. The importance of healthy GABA levels on sleep is evident in the study that found that people with reported sleep problems had almost 30% lower GABA levels than those without sleeping issues (4).
The GABA-A receptor is a target for several agents that can modulate and enhance the inhibitory effects of GABA on the body. Benzodiazepines, for example, are depressive psychoactive drugs (eg. Valium or Diazepam) that have often been used in the treatment of anxiety disorders and sleep problems. These drugs bind to a specific benzodiazepine site on the GABA-A receptor which also enhances GABA binding and causes chloride irons to flux through and hyperpolarize the neuron. However, benzodiazepines have a high risk of psychological and physiological dependence as well as several unwanted effects including memory loss, slowed speech, and disturbed consciousness (5).
Alpha-casozepine; the Natural Sleep Supplement
Alpha-casozepine is a natural bioactive peptide found in cow’s milk which, like benzodiazepines, has an affinity for the benzodiazepine site on GABA-A receptors. Supplementing with alpha-casozepine may contribute to the onset of sleep by increasing the activity of GABA and inducing a calming and anxiety-soothing effect on the body (6) that makes it easier to slip into sleep. The key difference is that, unlike benzodiazepines, alpha-casozepine is natural and without side effects such as addiction or disinhibition. Alpha-casozepine is locked within Lactium, the patented hero ingredient of Leapfrog SNOOZE, together with anti-inflammatory, immune-modulating Lactoferrin and mood-enhancing Vitamin B6.
So, if you find that you’ve tried every sleep hack in the book, but your ruminating and overactive mind is still keeping you awake at night, it’s time to up your sleep game with this sleep supplement with naturally sourced actives. Sweet dreams!
1. Lydiard R. B. (2003). The role of GABA in anxiety disorders. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 64 Suppl 3, 21–27.
2. Nutt DJ. 2005. Overview of diagnosis and drug treatments of anxiety disorders. CNS Spectrums 10:49–56.
3. Abdou, A. M., Higashiguchi, S., Horie, K., Kim, M., Hatta, H., & Yokogoshi, H. (2006). Relaxation and immunity enhancement effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) administration in humans. BioFactors (Oxford, England), 26(3), 201–208. https://doi.org/10.1002/biof.5520260305
4. Winkelman, J. W., Buxton, O. M., Jensen, J. E., Benson, K. L., O’Connor, S. P., Wang, W., & Renshaw, P. F. (2008). Reduced brain GABA in primary insomnia: preliminary data from 4T proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H-MRS). Sleep, 31(11), 1499–1506. https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/31.11.1499
5. Nuss P. (2015). Anxiety disorders and GABA neurotransmission: a disturbance of modulation. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 11, 165–175. https://doi.org/10.2147/NDT.S58841
6. Kim, Hyeon Jin, J Kim, Seungyoen Lee et al. (2019). A Double-Blind, Randomised, Placebo-Controlled Crossover Clinical Study of the Effects of Alpha-s1 Casein Hydrolysate on Sleep Disturbance. Nutrients 11 (7) 1466. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6682925/