My Story: How I’m Using Amino Acids to Improve Sleep

My Story: How I’m Using Amino Acids to Improve Sleep

By Donna Gregory Burch

Disclaimer: The following information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only.

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.

Donna Gregory Burch

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.”

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, anxiety and others.

GABA doesn’t easily cross the blood/brain 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, GABA/glycine 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!

Donna Gregory Burch was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2014 after several years of unexplained pain, fatigue and other symptoms. She covers news, treatments, research and practical tips for living better with fibromyalgia on her blog, FedUpwithFatigue.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter. Donna is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared online and in newspapers and magazines throughout Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania. She lives in Delaware with her husband and their many fur babies.

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Authored by: Donna Gregory Burch

There are 12 comments for this article
  1. HJ at 7:58 am

    I have sleep apnea. Waking with your heart racing or waking frequently to use the restroom at night are both signs. As are morning headaches. Lots of people have undiagnosed sleep apnea. Getting treated really improved my quality of life. Apnea causes wear and tear to the heart and lots of other potential health issues. Well worth investigating… I had NO recollection of waking at night other than to use my asthma inhaler (which I don’t do any longer) or to go to the restroom (which I still usually do just once, if at all).

  2. Kane T. Sleep Even at 3:01 pm

    I am in pain 24/7 at an average level of 5 or 6 out of ten. Two failed back surgeries 20 years ago and I have been cut from 100 milligrams of opiod medication down to 20 milligrams of medication. Even with 100 milligrams of medication I never got a restful night sleep. Now on 20 milligrams of medication a day, I “doze” for a couple hours and then stay awake for 2 hours or so all night, every night. I am sure it is because the CDC is blackmailing my pain specialist and I am not getting enough pain medication. I was steady on the opioid medication for over 15 years but apparently a government organization with people who whave NO idea hoe chronic pain can affect a person knows better how much medication I need rather than my doctor that I see every 8 weeks, evaluates me, checks ne for medication toxicity, physically checks my coordination, and looks me dead in the eye while doing so. For every one person that is suffering from pain medication low dosage because of the CDC, I hope that 10 policy makers experience what 10 million people or more have to live with daily. I don’t mean I hope they develop chronic pain forever, just for a year or so. They would rescind the “guideline” very quickly..No sleep, no work, no comfort, no quality of life and because the authorities can not force those that abuse opioids to stop so they just cause ALL in chronic pain that need opioid MEDICATION to suffer………….needlessly!!!!!!!Maybe a good sleep agent besides ambien can be developed or better yet found in nature. It is the only real peace that a chronic pain patient can get now with the “guideline” gestapo enforcing needless pain.I REALLY hope what goes around, comes around .

    everyone.

  3. Tim Mason at 6:28 am

    The natural component our body makes, melatonin is excellent for sleep You know you have gotten a good nights rest when you have dreams. Taking 1.5 to 3 mg of melatonin 1 to two hours before bed time will induce a dream state around the last thing your were watching on TV or reading.
    I use valium occasionally when I have a great deal of left over daily stress running thru my head.
    Often times (even with naps) will lie in bed and meditate about something good.
    I also sleep with my companion, a min-pin -rat terrier mix I rescued from a cemetery where I worked as a counselor between jobs.
    This Dog has so many human traits that it is frightening.
    Be Well

  4. Owl at 9:37 pm

    I hear you Layla! I usually get up when my hubby gets home from work, around 4-5pm! I don’t accomplish much of anything except email, EDS (Ehlers Danlos Syndromes) message boards and a few others, a couple of meals and a little time to watch TV or go have dinner with my hubby. Church once a week if I’m lucky, (I used to manage several times a week). It’s an abbreviated life but due to central sleep apnea and a hundred or so arousals every hour, it is just my life. My faith is what keeps me from being a babbling, thumb sucking, cartoon character every day.

  5. Layla Rose at 2:46 pm

    I’m wondering about what to do about my sleep, as I have CFS, but my sleep is so erratic sometimes. I already have an extremely delayed sleep phase disorder (my normal bedtime is around 3-4 am) so when I have insomnia, I sometimes can’t get to sleep until about 8 or 9 in the AM which means that I sleep away most of the main important hours. Waking up at noon is fine, but waking up at 5 in the evening makes me feel really out of touch with the world. And it makes it difficult to get things done.

  6. Owl at 2:03 pm

    I have given up ambien because of a constant increase in brain fog and memory loss but I have recently added Selenium to my nightly routine and I am loving it! It hasn’t yet been two weeks but I am getting some of my best sleep in years. It was recommended in an online discussion about treating adrenal fatigue and the expert said that Selinium is the one thing she would do if she had to pick just one way to treat it.

  7. Jean Price at 12:45 pm

    Donna…I think this article is great! And we really CAN help each other by offering ideas on what helps us! And also what we may have tried and had trouble with in the past! We all know there is no one-size-fits-all regimen for pain and all the issues that come from pain AND from our various diseases and conditions! Yet sharing what we’ve tried and found beneficial, including what may not be considered mainstream medical practice or a well know therapy…is a way to enlarge our knowledge of other options…and to see what just might work for us!

    So, good for you, dear lady! Restorative sleep is so important…for both healthy people and people like us who have medical problems which poor sleep patterns can even accentuate!

  8. Laura at 9:11 am

    I weaned off the following cocktail that I have been on for 15 years:

    Lorazepam 2 mg
    Clonazepam 0.5 mg
    Zolpidem 10 mg

    And now I take:

    Cannabis extract THC:CBD 1:1
    10 mg

    I fall asleep naturally instead of being clobbered into unconsciousness. I do have more pain than I did when I was anesthetizing myself, and I do wake up reliably in the early morning hours due to pain. I manage this with a short-acting vaporizer dose of a high CBD cannabis strain. I preload my vaporizer before bed, so all I have to do is reach for it in the night. It sends me back to peaceful dreamland until it’s time to wake up for real.

    I decided to get off the benzos (which work by means of stimulating GABA receptors) initially because I was having surgery and didn’t want any hassle getting pain meds. Once off the pharmaceuticals, I’ve been so happy with the clearing of benzo brain fog that I hope the current shift in government doesn’t try to deprive me of my herbal medicine!

  9. Kathy C at 8:39 am

    It looks like we are all our own experiments. Many of us have tried it all. The current Pharmacological Products, only “work” is a sense. They all have Side Effects, Tolerance Issues, and Drawbacks. This is apparently the best that our Medical Science can come up with. Sleep is really important for any kind of basic functioning, yet where is the “Science.’ You would think that kind of Research would be a priority. The Lack of sleep interferes with Healing, Mental Health, and Well Being. The Adverse effects of sleep are well documented, yet there is little recognition by the Medical Industry. They even misdiagnose people with all sorts of Conditions, when the cause is really a lack of sleep. Children whose Homes are too chaotic for sleep, are not “Sleep Deprived” they are “Hyperactive or Difficult.”
    The Pharmacological Industry found that these other drugs are profitable enough. The Medical Industry found that Sleep, is another thing people take for granted, so they can leave it out of any kind of Diagnosis. They probably don’t even have a way to keep notes on that basic Indicator of Health. Torturers are aware of the use of sleep deprivation, but the Medical Industry not so much. They found it more Profitable to ignore sleep, and attribute it to other easily Billable Conditions. Another Chicken or Egg argument, they chose to avoid tracking. It is just easier to perceive the lack of sleep as result of a mental issue, since it causes mental problems.

  10. StevefromMA at 6:37 am

    I’ve used Genevra’s book since it came out but have not tried that particular suggestion since I’ve been on my regimen for ten years, 10 mg generic Ambien in 2.5 mg doses every two hours, since I have to get up and use the bathroom those times anyway. I added 3 mg melatonin a few years ago, not sure if it helps. I’ve heard her online several times, interestingly, when last queried, she said she is taking Lyrica, melatonin, and Ambien at night. As usual, we all need different stuff, bizarre since symptoms are often similar.

  11. Rommy at 6:30 am

    I use lorazapam 1 mg. Four out of 7 days to avoid addiction.
    I get some morning grogginess, no anxiety.
    I have severe fibro and DDD.