GABA vs Melatonin: An Honest Comparison For Sleep, Side Effects & More!

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Last Updated on December 7, 2022 by theworldofsleepstaff

GABA and melatonin are compounds that play important roles in the sleep and wake cycle of humans. They both have been made into different supplement forms and have proved effective as sleep aids, amongst other functions.

However, there’s been much speculation about which of these compounds is actually the most effective.

In general terms, melatonin is likely better for insomnia and jet lag, as we’ll show you below. While GABA could be better at relaxing you in the evening which in turn could help you sleep.

However that’s just scratching the surface! Below we will pit these 2 sleep aids against each other and compare them in-depth to enable you to make better-informed decisions on which is best for you. Let’s get started!

Note: This content was only written as a reference, using third-party background information. It is not medical advice; As always, it is essential to do your research and speak with a healthcare provider if you have questions or before taking any new supplement.

CONTENTS:

  1. A Quick Overview
  2. Which Is Better For Sleep
  3. Which Is Better Inducing Calmness
  4. Which Is Better For Jet Lag
  5. Which Is Better For Treating Insomnia & Other Sleep Disorders
  6. Interactions With Other Medication
  7. Which Has Less Side Effects
  8. Use By Pregnant & Breastfeeding Women
  9. Treatment of High Blood Pressure
  10. The Main Differences Between GABA & Melatonin

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GABA Vs Melatonin: A Quick Overview

GABA

Gamma amino butyric acid, or GABA in short, is a neurotransmitter that plays an inhibitory role in the central nervous system. It is present in all developmentally mature mammals, and its main function is to reduce or inhibit neuronal excitability by stopping nerve transmission and brain signals.

Basically, GABA influences the nervous system into becoming more relaxed, losing excitation and other effects that come with a state of excitement and alertness, such as anxiety, hyperactivity, fear, and stress. Which is why it can help you get better sleep.

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Melatonin

As opposed to a neurotransmitter like GABA, melatonin is a hormone found in animals and plants. Studies show that it is released by the pineal gland at night to induce sleep.

Asides from other factors, melatonin is the major reason the body naturally shuts down and goes to sleep at night. This is because melatonin is usually secreted in the absence of light.

It is also important in syncing the body’s circadian rhythm, especially after moving to another location.

From the definitions above, it is easy to see that melatonin is more of a sleep aid than GABA is. While GABA is a neurotransmitter that relaxes the body (which may subsequently induce sleep), melatonin is actively involved in the waking and sleeping cycle of humans.

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Which Is Better For Sleep?

When it comes to inducing sleep, melatonin will always be a better and more effective option than GABA.

Your body naturally produces melatonin as night approaches to prepare your body for sleep at night. According to a John Hopkins sleep expert, “… melatonin levels rise in the evening and puts you into a state of quiet wakefulness that helps to promote sleep.”

GABA, on the other hand, only works as a neurotransmitter to stop or reduce the excitation of the nervous system. By doing this, it promotes calmness, relaxation, and a reduction in anxiety and fear. These actions can subsequently induce sleep, however, this is only sometimes the case.

After all, you can be in a relaxed and calm state without necessarily falling asleep.

The Bottom Line

Melatonin is more effective in inducing sleep than GABA. However, through its inhibitory ability to induce calmness and relaxation, GABA may also help to induce sleep to some extent.

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Which Is Better For Inducing Calmness

If you’ve had a long day and your body is all strung up and tense from the stress, GABA supplements are your best bet in fostering a feeling of calmness and relaxation.

Stress is simply your body’s response to uncomfortable situations. When you’re in uncomfortable situations, your body goes into a defensive mode in order to keep you from what it perceives to be a dangerous situation.

Thus, it inspires feelings like an increase in blood pressure and heartbeat, tension, and so on.

GABA inhibits the excitatory hormones and compounds responsible for these feelings and, subsequently, helps to induce calmness.

Melatonin, on the other hand, deals with your sleep and wake cycle. While it can inspire some feelings of relaxation and calmness in order to foster sleep, its effect at inducing calmness can’t be linked to that of GABA, whose primary function is exactly that.

The Bottom Line

GABA is more effective and potent than melatonin if you’re looking to induce calmness and reduce tension and stress.

Sleeping woman in bed at night in dark bedroom.
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Which Is Better For Jet Lag

Jet lag is difficulty falling asleep at night or staying awake during the day due to moving or traveling to a location with a different time zone.

In its attempt to help induce sleep, the body’s wake-sleep cycle learns your behavior, syncs itself to the nighttime of where you live, and releases melatonin when the parameters are right to sleep.

Just like how AI learns from previous interactions on your social media accounts and brings other similar content. Your body learns when the right time to sleep is.

However when you change locations, especially one with a different time zone from the one you’re coming from, your body will then take time to adjust to the new time zone and at first it will still function based on the previous one.

But taking melatonin supplements at night or when you plan to sleep can help you fight the jet lag and induce sleep.

GABA will not really have any effect on the jet lag you’re experiencing. The best it can do is help you relax after a stressful journey.

The Bottom Line

When treating jet lag, melatonin is more effective than GABA.

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Which Is Better For Treating Insomnia & Other Sleep Disorders

Insomnia goes beyond finding it difficult to fall asleep. It is also linked with poor sleep quality and more.

When it comes to treating insomnia, while there are studies to prove that both GABA and melatonin may prove effective, studies on melatonin showed more potency and other helpful effects.

This meta-analysis that analyzed different studies on melatonin supplements for treating sleep disorders and insomnia confirmed that, amongst other helpful effects it comes with, melatonin is extremely potent in inducing sleep and treating insomnia and sleep disorders.

This study on GABA proved that GABA is only mildly effective in promoting sleep. Additionally, it brought about more negative side effects, like inducing waking after sleep onset.

The Bottom Line

For treating insomnia and other sleep-related disorders, go for melatonin.

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Which Has Less Side Effects

There is hardly any medication that doesn’t come with its own side effects.

Both melatonin and GABA come with their own fair share of side effects. Side effects associated with melatonin include headache, dizziness, lightheadedness, confusion, and nausea.

GABA also has the same side effects. However, it can also come with an upset stomach and muscle weakness.

The Bottom Line

GABA and melatonin have similar side effects. However, GABA may also cause some muscle weakness, while there is little to no possibility of melatonin causing muscle weakness.

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Interactions With Other Medication

Due to their somewhat similar actions, melatonin and GABA can interact with the same types of medication.

Melatonin and GABA can both interact with medication that reduces blood pressure and thin the blood.

Additionally, both are not recommended for people with dementia or epilepsy.

The Bottom Line

Melatonin and GABA have similar actions and interactions, especially with anti-hypertensive medications and blood thinners.

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Usage by Pregnant & Breastfeeding Women

Enough research hasn’t been conducted on the effects of melatonin and GABA on pregnant and breastfeeding women. As such, it is recommended that before this group of people takes either of them, they should consult with their medical advisor.

The Bottom Line

Pregnant and breastfeeding women are not advised to take GABA or melatonin. If they want to, they should consult with their medical advisor first.

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Treatment of High Blood Pressure

A high blood pressure disorder in the body can cause a myriad of health conditions, including insomnia.

GABA may help reduce blood pressure. And taking a controlled form of melatonin may help too.

However, both of them should be taken after consultation with a medical doctor as they can drastically lower blood pressure.

The Bottom Line

Both of them can help in the treatment of high blood pressure. However, they should be used with caution.

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The Main Differences Between GABA & Melatonin

PropertiesGABAMelatonin
Type of compoundNeurotransmitterHormone
Function in the bodyInhibits the CNS. That is, reduces neuronal excitability, causing relaxation and reduction in anxiety/ tension.Involved in the sleep-wake cycle of the body. Helps to induce sleep.
In inducing sleepNot particularly effective, only works to reduce excitement and stress.Very effective. Helps the body to get ready for sleep.
In inducing calmnessVery effective. Inhibits excitatory activities and hormones in the body, causing relaxation and calmness.Mildly effective. Can only induce calmness when it’s time for the body to sleep.
Time of natural secretionIt can be secreted by the body anytime the body senses a need for relaxation.Secreted by the body during the night in order to promote sleep.
In curing jetlagMildly effective. Can only induce calmness and relaxation.Effective. Can adjust the body’s circadian rhythm and help prevent jet lag.
Treatment of Insomnia and other Sleep DisorderMildly effective. Few research to back up the claims.Effective and excellent form of treatment backed by research.
Side EffectsNausea, headache, dizziness, lightheadedness, confusion, upset stomach and muscle weakness.Headache, dizziness, lightheadedness, confusion, and nausea.
Interaction with other medicationsCan interact with blood-thinning medications like those used in reducing blood pressure. Contraindicated in people with dementia or epilepsy.Also interacts with blood-thinning medications. Not recommended for people with epilepsy and dementia.
Dosage needed to exert effectRequires a higher dosage compared to melatonin.Requires less dosage compared to GABA.
Treatment of high blood pressure Should be used with caution.Should also be used with caution.
Time to exert effectLess time compared to melatonin.Needs more time in order to exert an effect.

Melatonin vs GABA: Final Thoughts

While it is clear that both compounds may help to induce sleep, both of them have their primary areas of focus. Melatonin is a more potent sleep aid, while GABA is more potent for inducing relaxation.

Regardless, as with all medications and supplements, it is recommended that you consult your doctor before adding them to your routine, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.