Part 1: Natural Sleep Aids – GABA

 Sleep, Supplements  Comments Off on Part 1: Natural Sleep Aids – GABA
Mar 122013

I remember my older relatives not sleeping well when I was young. They easily woke early. Rustled in bed often. Now that I’m that older relative, I understand why they had a hard time sleeping. It’s easy to wake 2 or 3 in the morning with your mind worrying about something. Perhaps you just don’t feel well, or you’re just not very tired. Not very tired, that is, until the next afternoon. Then I can hardly keep my eyes open.

We Sleep Less And Less Well With Age

We tend to believe that sleeping less and less well is just a part of growing older.

It is true that as we age, we may need less sleep. Older adults tend to function just fine with 7 to 8 hours of sleep, while younger adults need closer to 9 hours. It is also true that we experience more fragmented sleep as we age, and we have poor regulation of sleep patterns due to the decrease in natural melatonin levels in our bodies. Many times this means that we seniors get less deep, restorative REM sleep. We get lower quality sleep.

It is the reduction in the quality of sleep, however, that can develop into serious health problems.

Consequences of Poor Sleep

Sleep problems at any age shouldn’t be taken lightly. There are health and safety consequences of poor quality sleep.

Insufficient sleep can lead to disease risks. According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, consistently getting inadequate sleep can increase your risk of developing chronic diseases.

  • Sleeping less than 6 hours each night produces hormonal changes in your body that increases your risk of becoming obese. Less sleep increases your level of insulin, which is associated with weight gain. Your body also produce less leptin, which suppresses your appetite, while making more ghrelin, which stimulates your appetite. This results in increased food cravings even though you’ve had adequate amounts of calories to sustain life and health.
  • Inadequate sleep increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Sleep less than you should, and you increase your chances of developing hypertension and heart disease.
  • People who sleep less than the recommended amount have a more difficult time fighting off common diseases, like colds and flu.
  • Sleep 5 hours or less each night, and you increase your risks of death by 15%.

Then there is the safety risks of poor quality sleep. Did you know that investigators claim that sleep deprivation played significant roles in the 1979 Three Mile Island and 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accidents? They also believe that sleep deprivation played important roles in the Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska, and the 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion.

If you don’t get enough quality sleep, you’ll not function mentally as well as you should. And sometimes, lives are lost.

Is Prescription Medication The Answer To Poor Quality Sleep?

Perhaps not!

You’ve probably heard the sleepwalking, sleepdriving stories concerning Ambien. The most famous being Kerry and Patrick Kennedy having driving mishaps while under the influence of that drug. They’re not alone. There are many stories of people eating, talking on the phone, walking and driving while on Ambien, and not remembering doing any of those things.

And there is the potential of these drugs to have addictive properties. Even though Ambien is not considered addictive if taken as prescribed, people are starting to overuse the drug. Unfortunately, people take more of the drug than they should to relieve rebounds in anxiety as the drug wears off. This often leads to abuse.

Even though these drugs are good at making you unconscious, acting on a subconscious level without remembering it, drug abuse and side effects are good reasons to stay away from prescriptions drugs as sleep aids.

Are There Natural Sleep Aids?

An ideal solution to obtain better sleep is to find something that is a natural sleep aid without the dangerous side effects of manufactured drugs. Not only natural, but perhaps a chemical that is manufactured by your own body to help you sleep.

GABA may be that ideal and natural sleeping aid. In fact, one of the primary causes of poor quality sleep could very well be a GABA deficiency.

What is GABA?

GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter in your brain that counteracts other brain chemicals that keep your brain alert. Called gamma-aminobutyric acid, it helps your brain relax. It is an important ingredient in your sleep cycle that allows you to go into deep REM sleep. Without it, you may experience fragmented, restless sleep. It is possible that age related sleep problems may be associated with a deficiency in GABA.

Your brain produces its own supply of GABA. In the early stages of sleep, GABA is normally released to shut your brain down. Without it, you’ll be deprived of deep, restful sleep. And as we age, our brains may be producing less of this neurotransmitter that is essential for high quality sleep.

Many believe that GABA supplements, however, are ineffective since this chemical can’t pass through the blood-brain barrier. This natural barrier allows beneficial components of blood to enter your brain, but not other components that nature deems unsafe. Your brain is thus protected from foreign substances, hormones and neurotransmitters.

Innovative chemists have developed GABA analogs, which are able to pass through the blood-brain barrier. Chemical analogs are molecules that are similar to the original, but slightly different to overcome some chemical obstacle. These analogs are thought to mimic GABA in your brain. Phenibut is one GABA analog that can be found in health supplement stores. I haven’t tried it myself, but many claim that it provides relaxation and restful sleep. Several drawbacks is that Phenibut is pricy and is still a manufactured drug.

Even though Phenibut may work well to provide high quality sleep, are there ways to naturally entice your own body to make more GABA?

How To Naturally Increase GABA Levels In Your Brain

Valerian root has been used for millennia as a remedy for anxiety and insomnia. It is not known how this root works, but scientist think it may increase GABA levels in your brain. It is slow acting, however. It probably will take 2 to 3 weeks for you to feel any beneficial effects. If you are patient, valerian root will probably improve your quality of sleep over time, as some scientific studies have shown.

Yoga exercises are another way to increase your brain’s level of GABA. A study published by the Boston University School of Medicine concluded that GABA levels increased by 27% following a 60-minute session of yoga. On top of that, yoga is a good form of exercise.

These methods of increasing GABA levels in your brain may not be as convenient as popping a pill. Both valerian and yoga also may not give you the instant gratification that you seek, since they both slowly increase GABA levels. However, you won’t experience dangerous side effects with these two methods, and the results may be longer lasting.


It is true that you need less sleep as you age. However, you still need at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep to stay physically and mentally healthy. Not just any sleep, but deep, high quality REM sleep.

Prescription drugs do put you to sleep, but come with a lot of unwanted side effects. Some of these side effects even involve sleepwalking, driving and eating while still under the influence of the drug. Not only that, but prescription drugs may not be putting you into that deep, high quality REM sleep that you need.

Many of you may be getting fragmented, poor quality sleep due to an deficiency of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA in your aging brain. Unfortunately, GABA supplements probably don’t work since GABA can’t pass through your blood-brain barrier – at least not easily. There is a chemical analog of GABA called Phenibut that may help you relax and get deep REM sleep. It’s a little pricey and is still a manufactured drug. If you’re a little patient, you can slowly increase your brain’s GABA levels with valerian root and yoga exercises. The good point of these last two options is that they are natural sleeping aids with few side effects.

But there is still another option that I find effective – glycine. For now, I will leave the discussion of that option to Part 2: Natural Sleep Aids – Glycine.


Harvard Medical School: Consequences of Insufficient Sleep
WiseGeek: GABA and Sleep
Livestrong: GABA Supplements that pass the blood-brain barrier
ABC News: Kerry Kennedy Crash Raises Questions About Ambien Use
Health: Can You Become Addicted to Ambien?
Health: Ambien Sleep Walking Turned Me Into a Midnight Binge Eater
Health: Are Sleep Problems Normal as We Get Older?
Neuroscience For Kids: The Blood Brain Barrier
University of Maryland: Valerian
NCBI: Yoga Asana sessions increase brain GABA Levels

How You Can Reduce Stress And Be Healthy

 Brain Health, Heart Health, Obesity, Sleep  Comments Off on How You Can Reduce Stress And Be Healthy
Feb 062013

We Americans like to chime about being part of the greatest nation in the world, and having the best work ethic anywhere. However, we pay a heavy price for our greatness and productivity. When it comes to worldwide life expectancy, we Americans don’t even make the top 40. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, the United States ranks 51 in a country comparison of life expectancy.

One of the reasons may be high stress levels. Stress levels that are a results of constantly wanting to be high achievers, and maintaining our expensive lifestyles. The price we pay is a less healthy and shorter life, even though we have the most expensive and perhaps the most advanced health care system in the world. This just proves that you can’t buy good health.

When we put ourselves under constant stress, we overexpose ourselves to cortisol and other stress hormones. Our body’s normal processes get disrupted by these hormones, and we increase our risk of health problems including:

  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems
  • Digestive problems
  • Depression
  • Obesity
  • Memory problems
  • And skin problems

A new 5 year study conducted by the University of Buffalo, Stony Brook University and Grand Valley State University, has shown that helping others can buffer the bad effects of stress. Routinely doing something beneficial to others not only reduces stress levels, but also reduces mortality risks. Help others and you are less likely to die anytime soon.

Research has also failed to find any health benefits in receiving help. This may prove that giving is indeed better than receiving.

The researchers studied that stress levels and helping behavior of 846 participants from the Detroit, Michigan area. The participants in this study reported the amount of time they spent in the past 12 months helping friends, neighbors or relatives who did not live with them by

  • Providing transportation
  • Doing errands and shopping
  • Performing housework
  • Or providing child care and other beneficial tasks

The conclusions of this study showed strong evidence that helping others reduces your mortality risks by buffering the association between stress and mortality. This supports the conclusions of other studies that found people with long and healthy life spans have strong social associations with family and friends. So let’s provide a helping hand as often as we can and live long and prosper.


University of Buffalo: Study Finds It Actually Is Better (and Healthier) to Give Than to Receive

Central Intelligence Agency: Country Comparison: Life Expectancy at Birth

Mayo Clinic: Stress: Constant Stress Puts Your Health at Risk

Improve Your Quality of Sleep With Chamomile or Glycine or Both

 Sleep, Supplements  Comments Off on Improve Your Quality of Sleep With Chamomile or Glycine or Both
Jan 252013

When I was younger, I noticed that some of my older relatives did not sleep as much as the younger folk. After I turned 50, I too started to sleep fewer hours at night. As it turns out, this is not an uncommon problem with seniors.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, older people tend to have a more difficult time falling and staying asleep than younger people. In some cases, this problem can lead to sleep deprivation. And sleep deprivation can lead to other health problems like

  • cardiovascular disease
  • headaches
  • memory loss
  • and depression.

Like most, I tried all types of concoctions to have a better night’s sleep. None really worked all that well. Melatonin did make me drowsy enough to fall asleep, but I still woke up in the middle of the night unable to get a full night’s rest. It is also a bad idea to overdose with melatonin. Some side effects of melatonin are daytime sleepiness, dizziness and headaches.

Then I heard on the Dr. Oz Show that the amino acid glycine helps careate positive changes in the brain wave patterns that are associated with deep non-REM sleep. It promotes a deeper and faster sleep without causing the foggy morning hangover feeling associated with most drugs and some other natural sleep aids.

According to a study by the Frontier Research Labs in Japan, test patients given glycine, showed significant reduction in fatigue and sleepiness during the day. The study on humans concluded that glycine improves sleep quality without negatively affecting daytime performance. It actually improved the symptoms of sleep deprivation.

So I gave it a try, and I’m a believer. I definitely sleep much better, and feel more refreshed and energetic during the day. I now take one serving of glycine powder about one hour before bedtime. I fall asleep quickly, and get a full night’s rest.

If you prefer, you can increase your blood’s glycine levels by drinking chamomile tea. Chamomile is an European flower in the daisy family. A study funded by Oxford Natural Products showed that chamomile tea increased the urinary levels of glycine. And glycine levels remained elevated for two weeks after test subjects stopped drinking the tea.

I think that chamomile is one of the better tasting herbal teas. I also like the aroma of the tea. Just like the glycine powder, drink some chamomile tea about one hour before going to bed. Sometimes I put a small amount of glycine in the chamomile tea, which gives it a sweet taste. I really get a good night’s sleep when I combine the two.

Give it a try like I did. Either take some glycine or drink the chamomile tea, and get a good night’s rest. You will feel much better the next day. I do.


ScienceDaily: Chamomile Tea: New Evidence Supports Health Benefits

US National Library of Medicine: The effects of glycine on subjective daytime performance in partially sleep-restricted healthy volunteers

Dr. Oz Show: Natural Prescription Alternatives

National Sleep Foundation: Aging and Sleep

Mayo Clinic: Is Melatonin a Helpful Sleep Aid