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.
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.