03.21.2017

Using GABA to improve sleep with fibromyalgia

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Disclaimers: This article was originally published on NationalPainReport.com. It is being republished here with permission from the editor. The following information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only. This post contains affiliate links. 

How I've been using GABA to improve my sleep with fibromyalgia. | Fed Up with Fatigue

When you have fibromyalgia, restorative sleep is always elusive. For many years, I haven’t been able to sleep through the night. I would wake every 2-3 hours, then struggle to fall back to sleep. Like most fibro sufferers, I can’t remember the last time I woke up feeling rested and refreshed.

I’ve tried various prescription medications for sleep without much success. Either they didn’t work or they caused daytime grogginess, which affected my ability to work and function. I’ve also tried a long list of over-the-counter sleep aids – again, with mediocre success.

But after years of trial and error, I’ve finally found a sleep aid that’s consistently working for me. It’s a combination of GABA (250-750 mg) and glycine (1000 mg), two amino acids that are sold as over-the-counter supplements. I learned about the GABA/glycine combo while reading Dr. Ginevra Liptan’s latest book, “The FibroManual.”

(Dr. Liptan is a physician who specializes in fibromyalgia and also HAS fibromyalgia. Read my interview with her here.)

GABA (gamma-amino-n-butyric acid) is a neurotransmitter that’s produced naturally by the body. Its primary function is to promote calm, and it’s frequently recommended as a supplement for relieving anxiety. According to Everyday Health, low GABA levels in the brain have been associated with sleep disorders, depression and anxiety.

GABA doesn’t easily cross the brain/blood barrier, so it’s necessary to pair it with glycine, another amino acid, for better penetration.

“Glycine also acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter and helps slow down brain activity, so the combination of GABA and glycine can have an additional calming effect,” Liptan writes in her book.

Taking GABA and glycine together may promote deep sleep. Several research studies have shown fibromyalgia patients have difficulty maintaining the deeper, restorative stages of sleep. In one study, researchers were actually able to induce fibromyalgia-like symptoms in healthy college students by depriving them of deep sleep for several days. Our lack of deep sleep is surely contributing to our fibro symptoms because our bodies never really rest or regenerate.

There’s limited research to support the use of GABA/glycine for deep sleep but that didn’t deter me from trying it. I am my own human guinea pig, after all. After almost a month of using the GABA/glycine combo, I’m happy to report it’s working! I’m consistently waking up only ONE time per night now.

I’m also experiencing less anxiety. For years, I’ve regularly woken up around 4 a.m., sometimes with my heart racing and feeling extremely anxious. It was difficult to fall back to sleep because I felt so out of sorts. (I suspect this is caused by an adrenal gland imbalance, but that’s a topic for another article.) Since starting the GABA/glycine combo, I bypass that dreaded 4 a.m. internal alarm most nights and wake up an hour or two later with little or no anxiety. I’m usually able to get back to sleep quickly instead of tossing and turning in bed for an hour or two, trying to relax my mind and body.

Of course, real data is preferable to personal narrative, so I wear a device to bed that tracks how much time I’m asleep and awake each night. I’m awake an average of 40 minutes per night now compared to more than an hour previously. That’s a tangible improvement!

The only negative I’ve experienced from using GABA/glycine is some grogginess when I first wake up in the morning, but that passes quickly.

A word of caution: According to some online sources, GABA is not recommended for people who take anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications, and it may interact with certain prescription muscle relaxers or pain medications. Obviously, it’s important to do your own research and talk with your doctor!

Overall, the GABA/glycine combo helps me sleep longer and deeper without as many interruptions. I’m grateful Dr. Liptan included it in her book.

So, am I finally waking refreshed and ready to slay the day? Not yet. I do wake up feeling a little better than I did prior to using GABA/glycine, but I’m not rested like my pre-fibro/Lyme days. I’m hoping this will improve with time. After all, I’ve struggled to get restorative sleep for years, so I can’t expect to bound out of bed with endless energy after taking two supplements for a few weeks.

But I am pleased with the progress I’ve made so far using GABA/glycine. It’s definitely a step in the right direction.

So, now it’s your turn…What drug or supplement helps you the most with sleep? Share in the comments! 

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Comments

  1. Rachel Koenning says:

    Hi Donna–
    I have both Fibromyalgia and Pernicious Anemia, I do receive B12 injections for the Anemia every other week. This last week I “lost” 2 vials of Cyanocobalamin as the needle barely penetrated my arm ( 2 attempts, 2 different needles, and tried the other arm) both times the needle would not penetrate my deltoid muscles and went shooting back at my husband both times. Do you have any idea if the Fibro is causing this? I called both my Hematologist and PCP to inform them of what is happening as I have completely “run out of gas” and need to be “refueled”. I have not heard back from either physician.

    • Donna Gregory/FedUpwithFatigue.com says:

      I’m not sure, Rachel. Hopefully your physicians will get back to you soon.

  2. Great to know. Gaba works

  3. Hi Donna, thanks for the info. I plan on doing a little more research and maybe trying this out myself. Lately I have been getting maybe a little under 3 hours first go around of sleep. Then up to 15 -60 mins before a second round of perhaps 2 hours of sleep, another 15 – 60 mins awake, etc, etc, etc.
    What really got my interest was the monitoring of your sleep. What device are you doing that with?
    I would chat more but I am hurting pretty bad right now.
    Thanks,
    Don

    • Donna Gregory/FedUpwithFatigue.com says:

      Hi Don, I had a very similar sleeping pattern as yours. I use the Quell pain relief device (www.quellrelief.com). It is a device that I wear on my leg that helps reduce body-wide pain. It’s the best thing I’ve ever used for pain relief – I wear it pretty much every single day and sleep in it, too. The device comes w/ an app that also tracks sleep. I wrote a post about the Quell device here that you might be interested in: http://fedupwithfatigue.com/quell-for-fibromyalgia/

  4. Since I don’t sleep either, I was eager to read your post! This does sound really good, but I’m glad you gave the drug-interaction warning. This saves us from trying something we shouldn’t 🙂

  5. Lisa Radelet says:

    After not finding any relief from LDN, melatonin or herbal supplements, and having bad side effects with amitriptyline, I’m now trying Topamax, per Dr. Liptan’s instructions, and finally experiencing some deeper sleep! I’ve been on it about 6 weeks now. And I don’t dream, either, but I’m not worried about it. The dream stages are not those deeper stages that we’re trying to increase when we have fibromyalgia.

    • Donna Gregory/FedUpwithFatigue.com says:

      I’ve heard really good things about Topamax. I have a girlfriend who uses it for migraines – she doesn’t have fibro – and it even helped her to lose weight!

      • Peter Nugent says:

        My eyes!her wife, who has migraines, was put on topamax and it affected her eyes! So, be careful!

      • Darla Carroll says:

        Just becareful a side effect of the topamax is kidney stones – I just went through hell with very large 8-10mm stones – one in each kidney – I had been taking topamax for my migraines working well lost some weight too but not worth the pain from these kidney stones – so at very least drink lots of water!!!!!

  6. Jackie Kendro says:

    I tried GABA alone before. Will try it with Glycine. I’m prescribed trazadone 10-15mg for sleep, but it doesn’t really work most of the time, regardless of the mg. Was planning to talk to my rheumatologist tomorrow about trying something different.

    Thanks for this!

  7. Simone says:

    I still do not have a Lyme’s diagnosis, but it is so likely … However, I have been struggling with fibromyalgia and assorted other things for years, totally and blissfully unaware there were so many aides to make life more comfortable. 🐣 And I thank you for all the info you have shared. Full entourage Marijuana Oil (fresh dried herb extracted into coconut oil) assists me with sleep and anxiety. The Hemp CBD OIL was too expensive over time, and while it relieved anxiety and improved my mood, it did NOTHING for pain or sleep. I found the CBD needs a touch of THC to be really useful, so full entourage medical grade marijuana (high CBD / low THC) of the indica variety works well. This is legal in my state, and I make my own oil with a Magical Butter Machine that was given to me free by the manufacturer after speaking to them about using botanical tinctures to treat chronic Lyme disease. Oh, I am starting Buhner’s Protocol for Lyme’s and many of the BOTANICALS grow wild where I live, or can be substituted for those that do not. It is a gentle approach that is supposed to not cause herking so much. Herking happens when you use an extreme protocol that causes die off of microbials that enters your bloodstream and makes you feel sicker than a dog. RSO (the extremely concentrated medical marijuana from an alcohol extraction) causes this, and I decided to avoid it, because my system is fragile and weak from too much culminated life stress right now. The herbal protocol relieves symptoms while the body heals itself. We are converting to the healthy gluten-free Paleo lifestyle, which is natural for us as we were already subsistence oriented, and I have been using detoxing patches and teas for the last month in preparation, as well as probiotics, and making my own yogurt. I am going to do a seven day “super food” smoothie cleanse soon, before beginning the herbals. Assembling all the ingredients and supplements takes time, and I almost have all the pieces in place to begin a full scale program to reduce my symptoms. FYI – I am a person who has sort of fallen through the cracks of my local medical care system, so I do a LOT of research online, and have a tendency to follow functional medicine trends. I am not on any prescription drugs, except medical marijuana, but sometimes I wish I were. My pain levels are topped out most days right now, only a few days I have semi-remission from pain, and never total. This is a long story, and I know it is one we all share here, so I will not elaborate. My stress levels got way too high the last few years and I came to a threshold that I am having a hard time reducing again. Then two weeks ago my $2,500 emotional therapy Aussie dog was killed and taken by wolves on our beach, a totally unprecedented attack, never before seen around here. And I am still devastated about it – maybe still in shock. Sorry – enough babbling. Thanks for the sleep supplement info. I put it on my list at Amazon. 😐

    • Donna Gregory/FedUpwithFatigue.com says:

      Let me know how the Buhner protocol goes for you. I am still taking antibiotics for Lyme at this point, but I’m not making the progress that I’d hoped, and I am seriously leaning toward chucking the antibiotics and going all natural. So sorry to hear about your doggie. I’m sure that was a tough, heart-breaking loss. 🙁

      • Simone says:

        Thank you. It was a heart-rending loss for all of us – my husband and remaining pup, Sam. We have been so offset and depressed. It takes the right dog, a lot of time and a lot of adventures together to form the kind of relationship we had with her. The other remaining dog is also good emotional support, but not the motivator Reba was. We have gotten on the list for another therapy dog, but prices have doubled in nine years, and waiting list is long. We can afford the deposit, but will have to save for a year to afford the total cost. And it will take time to find a match.

        About Buhners protocol … I recommend his book “Healing Lyme,” which you can find on Amazon. If you do not want to collect all the herbs yourself, which if you cannot find them locally, can also all be found in various forms on Amazon, there is also DR RAWLS MD who has bottled / packaged the program, and offers full online support – https://vitalplan.com/shop/restore-kit/ You can find his books on Amazon as well, which details his own personal struggle with fibromyalgia / Chronic Lyme’s.

        I remember reading that you are on gluten free. I started out using the famous DR AXE’s nutritional protocol for Lyme’s, and eating a lot of bone broth meals does eliminate a lot of stomach and IBS discomfort. Up here in Alaska, I was raised on a subsistence diet, which is easy to get away from in our modern world of packaged and fast food meals. Furthermore, I discovered FOOD MATTERS out of Australia, which is utterly complete daily dietary health support with diet plans, detox programs (so important for Lyme victims), recipes, superfood smoothies, lifestyle advice, gentle yoga routines, and inspirational movies – https://www.fmtv.com – very awesome!

        • Donna Gregory/FedUpwithFatigue.com says:

          I used Vital Plan for about 3 months. I had some good results w/ it, but then started antibiotics and I reverted back to my old symptoms. Do you happen to know how similar Vital Plan is to the Buhner protocol? I know Dr. Rawls was inspired by Buhner but am not sure if the dosages are high enough to really be therapeutic.

          • Simone says:

            Dr Rawls uses the same herbs as recommended by Buhners protocol, and has an expanded line of supplements to cover other associated conditions. Even Buhner says that the botanical approach is not one size fits all, that one should start with the base protocol, then adapt it to one’s needs. You can substitute other herbs that you may find locally that work better, too. And herbs have a discriminating, gentle approach not found with antibiotics that brings health to your whole system. Ninety days might bring healing and relief for acute sufferers, but if you are chronic and Lyme’s is in stealth mode, it may take a couple years for full recovery, and even then one may have to continue taking herbs as a preventative measure. It depends on how compromised one’s body and brain is by the Lyme infection, as there are cases of permanent neurological damage and susceptibility to reinfection if sufferer’s immune system cannot be reprogrammed to recognize the threat within anymore.

            *** I find that I need about 3x the average dosage of practically every supplement I introduce to my body at this time. I think when we suffer fibromyalgia, we have a tendency to become nutritionally deficient from stress on many levels depending on the underlying issues,and the body needs mega doses of concentrated nutrition, vitamins and minerals, like superfoods to heal and reset. For the chronically ill, this process is not easy and we might feel worse before we get better. This confuses us, because we think “medicine” (whether herbs, food, vitamins or drugs) should make us feel better in thirty to ninety days, and if it does not, we kick it to the curb. My research has revealed that particularly chronic Lyme suffers go through hell to recover their health. There is no passive approach to recovery. If you do not knock the Lyme bacteria out of the playing field (your deep tissues) they will rally and multiply again and again, and probably already have been if you recognize a pattern to your malaise. Rather than go at the creeps with toxic substances, the Buhner idea is to naturally increase the body’s health nutritionally, especially the gut health, then supplement with plant medicines that have natural antibacterial agents that boost the body’s immune system to take care of the parasitic invaders itself. Depending on how damaged your system is, is how fast / slow you will recover fully. Chronic Lyme has been compared to malarial infection.

            I have known of this abovementioned “pattern” for years and was treated derisively by my GP doctor when I noted that my issues ebb and flow with MOON CYCLES. Has anyone else noticed this? Then I recently found out that the bacterial spyrocetes that cause Lyme’s disease synchronize their life cycle to the moon phases, about every two weeks. That makes it real. Get a moon APP for your tablet, and check it out yourself, keep a moon journal of your symptoms. That makes it really real and obvious. When you see a pattern to your low ebbs – intensified pain, insomnia, nausea, fatigue, sweats, etc this is HERKING (natural die off of organisms whose toxins are entering your blood stream to be filtered out), but it also means a new cycle of organisms are beginning in the deep tissue if you are not creating a healthy environment in your body where they can no longer thrive. Hence the herbal program, detox and superfood Paleo diet that is in place to create an inhospitable body for bad bacteria to flourish.

            I am just at the beginning of my protocol (although I have been combating this in various ways for thirty years) because I kept backing off when I felt sicker during various treatments. The only way out is through. It has only taken me THIS LONG to realize it, because there is no Lyme or Fibromyalgia LITERATE medical care where I live. BTW – I am beginning to realize that HERKING is a good sign (even though it be miserable) – it means one’s immune system is still working and “something” one is doing is causing bacterial die off that will eventually end in relief, just not at the moment. That is where I am at. Feeling worse before it gets better. 😨 And I have not properly even started yet. I have been on other herbal protocols for the past couple months for detoxing and organ stimulation, and they have caused the herking. Too strong dosages of cannabis oil also causes herking. The other thing that is adding credence to this die off /herking actuality is the results of footpad detox during these times. I definitely get results when the moon is full dark or full lit, every two weeks and I am feeling my rottenist when it happens. I would much rather be in this process than in some prescription program where I never see any difference because all my symptoms are suppressed, but the cause is never dealt with. I think fibromyalgia needs to be felt. It is essentially the emergency broadcast system of our body going berserk and trying desperately to communicate to us what is wrong, and we do not listen very well.

          • Donna Gregory/FedUpwithFatigue.com says:

            Keep me updated on how the herbs are working for you. I’ve made the decision to stop all antibiotics indefinitely. I’ll be switching to herbs as soon as I figure out which protocol I want to follow.

  8. Kathryn Main says:

    I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia a year ago and was prescribed Pregabalin. It changed my life. I could at last sleep all night and I could eat a meal. Previously I had suffered like most people with lack of sleep but it had got so bad for me with food I could only eat a few mouthfuls every second day. After my first prescription the second month I was given a different brand of Pregabalin which reacted badly and I went back to my original state so I again went back to TEVA brand Pregabalin and have stayed on it ever since then. I am still able to sleep and my appetite is better. The effects have slightly died down but I am still better than I was before starting it.

    • Donna Gregory/FedUpwithFatigue.com says:

      So glad that Lyrica is helping you! I hear a lot of people in the fibro world bash Lyrica but it is a real blessing for some people. Hugs to you!

  9. Cathy says:

    Thank you for posting about this!!
    I was just doing research on GABA because I was curious about when I take Xanax I sleep better and my fibro/myofascial pain seems to feel better the day after. I only allow myself to take a 1/2 milligram of Xanax once to twice a week because I don’t want to become dependent on it or for my body to require more. I just really enjoy the one to two nights a week that I do take it because I can actually sleep and feel better all over the next day.

    So, I looked up info on Xanax and it says that it enhances the GABA in the brain!!
    It also said that the reason people will start requiring a higher dose after a few weeks is because the brain says “Hey, there’s something that’s producing the GABA for us and we don’t need to produce it as much now” So then the dosage needs to be increased.
    Here’s the link to the article.

    http://www.nationalanxietyfoundation.org/how-does-xanax-work–.html

    So then I started thinking that if I didn’t take the Xanax but just tried the GABA in a supplement form would it work as well as the Xanax without the side effects or addiction.
    My only question was will my brain stop producing it itself if I’m giving it to it through a supplement and what would happen if I stopped taking the GABA after awhile.
    It’s something I’m going to talk to my Naturopath next week about and I can let you know what he says.

    I also heard a lot of good things about Pharma Gaba by Natural Factors which is a chewable.

    • Donna Gregory/FedUpwithFatigue.com says:

      Definitely let me know what your doctor thinks about GABA. Am interested to hear his opinion on it.

      • Cathy says:

        I saw my Naturopath today and he gave me “PheniTropic” by Biotics
        The supplement is Phenibut
        Here is the info on it. Tonight will be the first time trying it so I will have to let you know how it works
        http://www.bioticsresearch.com/sites/default/files/LIT-171%20NeuTropic%20Products%204C_0.pdf

        • Donna Gregory/FedUpwithFatigue.com says:

          Let me know how it works! Looks promising.

          • Cathy says:

            Well….. It gave me VERY vivid/color bad dreams 🙁
            But, I am taking LDN and I took both at bedtime so that may have caused the vivid dreams.
            It did make me feel very relaxed and calm before I fell asleep.
            I think tonight I will take the Phenibut and skip the LDN and see what happens.
            I can’t stand having bad dreams!!

          • Donna Gregory/FedUpwithFatigue.com says:

            I’ve been taking LDN and GABA together and haven’t had an issue w/ bad dreams, but as you know, everyone with this condition is different. I hope that was just a fluke. Keep me updated on how it goes.

  10. I’ve just started LDN and am up to 2.5mg after slowly titrating up for 22 days. I also take amitriptyline 25mg. I am falling asleep easier and sleeping deeper. Unfortunately my neck gets very stiff and sore no matter what I do so that interrupts my sleep from early morning (plus the baby gets up once). However it’s super exciting just to be asleep long enough to potentially achieve sleep cycles plural! Love when something helps, even if only for a while 🙂

    • Donna Gregory/FedUpwithFatigue.com says:

      So glad LDN is helping you! I’m amazed at just how many people w/ fibro are getting good results with LDN.

  11. Could you please reference the supplements you use and recommend? I’ve tried so many over the last 25 years and the only 1 can recommend is a vit E & A cream for my skin. I’m so discouraged, it is so hard to trust any thing I read or try. So many failures and no help thru the supplements. I feel I’m throwing away my SSI income just trying supplements.

    • Donna Gregory/FedUpwithFatigue.com says:

      I’m actually planning to do a video on my current supplement protocol. I hope you will find that helpful!

    • Hang in there Cheryl!
      From everything I have read it appears things that may work for one group of people doesn’t work for another.It seems that we all have to work through trial and error to discover the right regiment that works for us individually.
      Take Care and God Bless

  12. Walter says:

    Sorry this is pure nonsense…..Gaba can’t cross the blood barrier !

    • Donna Gregory/FedUpwithFatigue.com says:

      Well, I guess the placebo effect has lasted several weeks then. Either way, it’s working for me. 🙂

    • Grant says:

      And the greatest minds in the world swore the earth was flat. All the greatest doctors in the world a little more than 30 years ago swore Parkinson’s disease was a mental fig mentation, people just needed to get over it. Funnily enough they are doing the same with Fibro and only just starting to realize Fibro sufferers are physically formed to a heightened state of reaction. Excess nerves in the hands are just the tip of the iceberg. They will eventually realize our entire systems, sympathetic, parasympathetic, physical, mental are physically formed at molecular level to over produce chemicals, hormones, enzymes at different levels and combination ratios. We are physically formed with more nerves in our entire bodies at such levels, science has only just developed enough today to even measure the excess nerves in our hands around the arteriole venule shunts, let alone the rest of our bodies. Imagine when science finally developed well enough to actually see the nerve proliferation through the rest of our bodies, understand the different chemical reactions, processes and levels taking place at molecular levels in our bodies They will be amazed Fibro sufferers function even close to any sort of normality and embarrassed at how ridiculously incorrect they all were.
      You need to learn to question science more. The so called experts are constantly proved completely wrong over time.

    • Lisa Radelet says:

      Walter, that’s apparently what the Glycine is for, according to Dr. Liptan.

  13. Annette says:

    I’m using the GABA/Glycine combination too. I am finally sleeping through the night without waking in pain. I still don’t dream so I doubt I am going through all cycles of sleep.

    • Donna Gregory/FedUpwithFatigue.com says:

      That’s awesome news! So glad it’s helping you! Yeah, I don’t dream very much either, or at least I don’t remember them.

      • Lesli says:

        Weird because I feel like all I do is dream. I constantly dream, very vividly, right up until morning when I finally get up. Wake up many times and toss and turn etc but seems soon as I do fall back to sleep I go right into dream mode. Would love a refreshed night’s sleep, can’t remember what that even feels like. Sounds like this would def be worth trying.

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