GABA ingredient shows sleep benefits: Study

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Sleep Cognitive health Cognitive function

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) may help people fall asleep faster, says a new study from Pharma Foods International Co. Ltd. in Japan.

Data published in Food Science and Biotechnology​ indicated that 112 mg of the company’s PharmaGABA ingredient, which is reportedly equivalent to 100 mg of pure GABA, led to shorter sleep latency, the time between wakefulness and the first stage of sleep.

The researchers also reported that the GABA supplement was associated with longer successive deep, non-REM stage of sleep – the most beneficial portion of the cycle.

The booming sleep category

The overall sleep aid category is growing at an eye-watering 27% and is expected to hit $732 million in 2018, but natural products and dietary supplements only occupy a small portion of the market.

Data from the Datamonitor Consumer 2014 survey found that “insomnia” was tied for the fourth most prominent health issue of American consumers ranked by percentage, coming in behind stress, tiredness and fatigue (which itself is related to sleep), and allergy.

Natural sleep aids experienced a few years of good growth, until P&G’s ZzzQuil launched in 2012 to become a $134 million brand almost overnight. P&G quickly took over the category lead with a 22% share of value sales, according to Euromonitor International.

Of the current $602.4 million market for calming and sleep aids, about 25% ($151 million) comes from branded calming and sleeping products containing analgesics, including Tylenol PM, Advil PM, Excedrin PM and most recently Aleve PM. Other branded standard sleep aids, including ZzzQuil, most Unisom products, Simply Sleep, drive the majority of sales in the category, with approximately US$232 million, while private label accounts for another US$168 million.

By far the smallest portion of sales comes from herbal/traditional calming and sleeping products, said Strobel, accounting for $52 million in 2014.

The new study indicates that GABA may offer an effective supplement to boost sleep.

Study details

Image © iStockPhoto

The researchers recruited 10 people with an average age of 37.7 to participate in their study. The people had a high probability of sleep disorder according to the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI). The participants were given 112 mg of PharmaGABA over a period of three weeks: The first and third weeks were active, while the second served as a “wash-out” period.

Results showed that GABA reduced sleep latency and lengthened deep, non-REM sleep.

In addition, blood analysis showed that GABA was absorbed very rapidly – within 30 minutes of being administered – and just as significantly, trace levels dropped off precipitously soon after. Subjects reported feeling refreshed and alert upon rising after the use of GABA.

This is an important distinction between GABA and sleeping formulations such as diazepam and others, including non-prescription sleep aids, which linger in the blood long after rising, resulting in a qualitative decline in cognitive and physical condition, said the company.


GABA can be found in a range of foods, with certain fermented foods particularly popular in East Asia like kimchi having especially high concentrations.

Pharma Foods International produces its GABA from the fermentation of lactobacillus using a proprietary process. The ingredient PharmaGABA is self-affirmed GRAS, and reportedly commands over 70% of the Japanese market.

Source: Food Science and Biotechnology
Volume 25, Issue 2, pp 547-551, doi:
“Effect of oral gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) administration on sleep and its absorption in humans”
Authors: A. Yamatsu et al. 

Related topics Research Supplements

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