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Melatonin isn't working? Try these supplements!

Feel like you’ve tried everything when it comes to sleep? You’ve perfected your bedtime routine, have great sleep hygiene, and take your melatonin every night. Yet, for some reason still can’t get good quality sleep?

Luckily, melatonin is not the only supplement that can be used to augment your sleep. Sometimes, you need a supplement that will help to quiet your racing thoughts, something that deals with the neurotransmitter GABA. Keep reading to learn more.

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The problem with melatonin:

Melatonin does work for many people as an aid to help you fall asleep. However, while melatonin can help you fall asleep, it will not keep you asleep. Many people who take melatonin will find themselves waking up several hours later and have a hard time falling back asleep.

If you often find yourself unable to relax or quiet your brain before going to bed, you should probably think about considering a supplement that targets GABA.

What is GABA?

GABA stands for gamma-aminobutyric acid; it is an amino acid and neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters act as chemical messengers in our nervous systems. They help to carry messages along the nervous system as they pass signals to each other. For example, they might carry a message from your brain to your hand to warn that the iron is hot!

GABA works as an inhibitory neurotransmitter, meaning that it blocks impulses or messages sent between nerve cells in the brain. When a message is blocked by GABA, the impulse is not sent along to other neurons, but is stopped. GABA stops messages related to extreme moods or feelings. The neurotransmitter works to calm down your nervous system, helping you to not become overcome by extreme moods.

Specifically, GABA works to block nerve signals in the brain in order to reduce stress, anxiety, and fear. Obviously, this helps to keep your mental health in a positive state. A deficiency in GABA can cause symptoms like anxiety, stress, and worry.

In regards to sleep, GABA is responsible for helping your mind disengage from the alert, wakeful state of the day and transition into relaxation and sleep. The neurotransmitter can help ease feelings of anxiousness, decrease muscle tension, and reduce physical and mental stress.

Supplements that boost GABA function:

While there are many supplements that claim to enhance GABA function, you must be selective about which one you choose. Many of the drug-store brand GABA enhancers actually can’t cross the blood-brain barrier- rendering them useless. We’ve compiled some of the best supplements to boost the function of your GABA and guarantee you a good night’s sleep.

Magnesium Threonate:

Magnesium is a relatively new treatment recommendation to improve sleep quality. But, research has shown that magnesium can help improve symptoms of insomnia. One study found that taking 500mg of magnesium daily for 8 weeks had the following effects:

  • The patients fell asleep faster and slept longer.

  • Sleep efficiency was improved, meaning they spent more time asleep while in bed.

  • Patients saw a reduction in early morning wakeups.

  • There was a decrease in the concentration of cortisol, the stress hormone.

Magnesium threonate is the form of magnesium that is able to cross the blood-brain barrier, thus allowing it to support GABA functioning. The supplement was developed by MIT researchers and has proven to be the most efficient in crossing the blood-brain barrier when compared to other magnesium supplements.

Other research on magnesium threonate found that it positively impacts other areas of the brain, including:

  • Repaired damaged synapses

  • Raised brain magnesium levels

  • Improved hippocampus function

  • Increased number of synapses in the brain

  • Improved short-term memory

  • Improved brain circulation


L-theanine is an amino acid found in most kinds of teas- black, white, green, and oolong. However, green tea has been shown to have the highest amount. L-theanine supports the GABA pathways to help with relaxation and getting to sleep. L-theanine has been found to enhance the production of several neurotransmitters, including dopamine, serotonin, and GABA. The amino acid helps to establish balance throughout the neurotransmitter system, resulting in improvements in the mental, emotional, and physical symptoms of stress.

In one study, participants were given L-theanine or a placebo pill for 4 weeks. The study demonstrated the powerful effects of L-theanine on both sleep and cognitive function in general. The group taking L-theanine experienced:

  • Shorter time to fall asleep

  • Took fewer sleep medications

  • Fewer sleep disturbances

  • Improved mental clarity

Taking l- theanine with magnesium threonate works synergistically to help quiet the brain and give you the best night of sleep ever.


Most people don’t know that the hormone progesterone actually plays a big role in sleep- for women! It is actually considered to be the calming and soothing hormone. Further, when progesterone is taken orally, 80-90% of it is metabolized into allopregnanolone. Allopregnanolone plays a key role in the functioning of GABA receptors and will help to promote relaxation.

While topical progesterone typically takes 2-3 months to achieve the desired effects, taking progesterone orally can help you fall asleep in around 30 minutes to an hour. Of course, your progesterone dosage will be uniquely tailored to your biochemistry, so it is important to talk to your doctor about supplementing with progesterone.

Ensuring a good night’s sleep:

While taking supplements to improve your sleep can make a big impact on your sleep quality, it is best when also combined with good sleep hygiene habits. Here are our top recommendations for your best night of sleep:

  • Increase bright light during the day- Bright light in the daytime will bolster your body’s circadian rhythm. One study found that for people with insomnia, bright light in the day reduced the time it took to fall asleep by 83%.

  • Reduce blue light in the evenings- Too much light in the evenings can trick your circadian rhythm into thinking it’s still daytime. Blue light especially has a reputation for disrupting sleep patterns.

  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon- When you drink caffeine, you stimulate your nervous system. This can stop your body from entering relaxation mode at night. One study found that consuming caffeine 6 hours before bed significantly negatively impacted sleep quality.

  • Don’t take long or irregular daytime naps- While short, “power” naps have proven to be beneficial, irregular or long naps can worsen your sleep at night. Daytime naps can confuse your body’s internal clock, leading to insomnia or frequent wake-ups at night. One study found that daytime naps can cause people to feel sleepier.

  • Avoid alcohol at night- Alcohol can cause or increase symptoms of snoring, disrupted sleep, and sleep apnea. Alcohol also alters your circadian rhythm by disrupting melatonin production. One study found that nighttime alcohol consumption decreases natural elevations in human growth hormone, which impacts your circadian rhythm and helps to build muscle, burn fat, and build healthy tissues.

  • Keep your bedroom cool- A high bedroom temperature has been found to disrupt sleep more than external noises. Studies have found that when you and your bedroom are hot, sleep quality will decrease and wakefulness will increase.

  • Keep your exercise during the day- Studies have found that exercise can enhance all sleep aspects and reduce symptoms of insomnia. For those with severe insomnia, exercise works better than most sleeping aids. One study demonstrated that daytime exercise reduced time to fall asleep by 55%, anxiety by 15%, and total sleep time by 18%.

For more information on exploring these supplements to improve your sleep, click here to contact us or call 276-235-3205 to schedule your complimentary discovery call.

The Johnson Center for Health services patients in-person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach / Norfolk locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!


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