L-Theanine and Gaba for Sleep: A Potent Mixture

People’s relationship with sleep often follows one of two paths: 

  1. You wake up feeling refreshed and alert. You’re soaring into the day, ready for breakfast, a morning beverage or a walk with your dog. Whatever ritual starts your day feels particularly inviting today because you had a satisfying night’s rest last night.

  2. Or, you can’t believe the alarm already buzzed. Your hand jolts to hit the snooze button. Another 15 minutes or more of rest feels necessary. You tossed and turned last night, woke up over and over and were unable wake up feeling recharged. 

Unfortunately a growing number of people relate more commonly to the second description. Almost half of all Americans say they feel sleepy during the day between three and seven days per week! Whether problems stem from getting to sleep or staying asleep, we always benefit from better rest; that’s why there’s a strong and evolving market for sleep aids, natural supplements, and prescription medications. 

Among that market, interest has grown in recent years for a combination of amino acids: GABA and l-theanine for sleep. A natural option for quicker and deeper rest supported by rigorous clinical evidence. 

The Drawback of Many Over-the-Counter Sleep Remedies 

Over the counter sleep aid products are a common option among shoppers looking for assistance with sleep. Brands like Unisom and ZzzQuil, and generic products like doxylamine succinate or diphenhydramine HCI tablets dot the shelves at grocery and convenience stores nationwide and have shown to effectively cause drowsiness. But many users report “hangover effects” from these, specifically morning after drowsiness, grogginess and struggles to muster energy. These side effects are owed to the long “half-life” of these products (10-12 hours) - basically how long the drug remains active in the body. 

Even stronger than these sleep aids are prescription medications. Some studies have indicated these types of “hypnotic drugs” are not a great fit for temporary or periodic sleep disturbances due to the risk of dependence.

Some relief in the form of a pill with very strong side effects is something many people are familiar with. And tired of. Between side effects and the ability for one’s body to form a tolerance to over the counter sleep aids, many are looking for more natural alternatives. 

That’s where the combination of GABA and l-theanine as an option for sleep becomes more intriguing. 

What is GABA and L-theanine?

Similar to melatonin, GABA is both naturally produced by your body and found in nature. Dr. Michael J. Breus, a Clinical Psychologist, refers to GABA as “the brakes of the brain” because it slows the activity of neurons and the central nervous system, which can reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, and overwhelm. When mixed with L-theanine, a natural amino acid found in green tea, the result is a relaxing combination that improves many aspects of sleep. 

GABA and L-theanine’s Impact on Sleep Latency 

In sleep science, sleep latency is the length of time that it takes to accomplish the transition from full wakefulness to sleep.

Studies conducted on the GABA and l-theanine mixture for sleep have shown the combination led to a significant decrease in sleep latency (roughly 14.9%) and an increase in sleep duration (26.8%) compared to the control. 

GABA and L-theanine’s Impact on Sleep Quality

Sleep quality is primarily defined by how much of your sleep is spent in REM and NREM (deep sleep) cycles, as these two cycles are most restorative to your mind and body. 

REM sleep makes up about 20-25% of a person’s sleep on any given night. This is the cycle where you do the bulk of your dreaming. Various studies have shown that consistent REM sleep can improve depression, anxiety and cognitive brain function, while also providing other overall health benefits.

NREM sleep makes up three stages and is often associated with being restorative for the brain and body. The third stage of NREM sleep is believed to be your deepest sleep, where the body takes the most care of itself.

The GABA/l-theanine combination has shown to increase REM sleep by 99.6% and deep sleep (NREM) by 20.6% compared to the control. And, the longer term the mixture was used, the more sleep quality and sleep duration improved.

How do they work?

Simply put: Your sleep hours are their work hours. The two amino acids work in tandem to calm your mind and rest your body.

GABA acts through GABA receptors in the brain. When the GABA/l-theanine mixture is taken, the GABA binds to GABA receptors in the brain, limiting brain cell activity while activating the GABA receptors - which are well-known as beneficial for sleep. At the same time l-theanine works to induce changes to serotonin and dopamine levels and stimulate receptors of the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system - largely responsible for sleeping behavior. 

The Bottom Line

What’s known as “sleep hygiene” is foundational for getting better sleep. By practicing going to bed and waking up at the same time, avoiding blue light (TVs, phones, etc.) an hour or more before bed, finding some bedtime ritual (tea, yoga, meditation, etc.), and getting natural light upon waking are just some of the ways you can improve sleep.

But if you’re looking for some extra assistance, it is clear that natural alternatives can work better, faster, and don’t come with the side effects that prescription drugs often do. People who have taken GABA and L-theanine in particular report falling asleep faster, staying asleep longer, feeling more rested, while also having an easier time waking up when compared to hypnotic drugs. GABA and L-theanine work together to create a safe and effective supplement based in nature itself.