Thursday, June 29, 2006


Gama Amino Butyric Acid, Gama Amino Butyric Acid, Hey!

For as long as I can remember, I've been a night person. Oh, I've managed to stir up enough firing neurons in the morning hours to pass for some degree of cognitive presence, but really, it's all an act. Some members of the orchestra are lazily tuning up while others are roaming around backstage, lost. The symphony starts in the afternoon and goes on all night long.

During graduate school, I manically juggled single parenthood (my kids were aged three and eleven when I started), a business managing musicians/bands, and a 12 semester-hour grad-school schedule --three hours more than the recommended full-time load. Something had to give, and sleep turned out to be the most expendable thing on the list. (This eventually ended up having serious health consequences that have since resolved...I think...but that's another story.)

The quiet hours after midnight became my golden time. Bed time came around 2:00A M, then was pushed up to 3:00 AM, then 4:00 AM... give or take. This has gone on for so long that my body just gave up on the idea of sleep. It just doesn't seem to crave it anymore. I could stay up all night with no sweat whatsoever. I no longer know what it like to be so tired that you cannot keep your eyes open. I lay in bed, usually after 4:00 AM, and decide that I should turn the light off and at least try to sleep before it's time to schlep the kids off to wherever. After a few minutes, I suddenly realize that I'm clenching my jaws. It's not TMJ. I'm awake, just not relaxed.

Staying up until the pre-dawn hours has been a most difficult habit to break. I haven't succeeded so far, and it's been years now. Maybe I've failed because I really don't want to succeed badly enough. I admit that I like --no, I love the quiet of the wee hours. But I get a lot of flack for that. So I do try.

Since I don't have health insurance, I'm looking for a cheap solution. My latest attempt involves GABA, one of the key inhibitory neurotransmitters in the brain. I tried to find articles from reputable sources that would explain the role of GABA as it relates to sleep, anxiety, depression, and other such conditions, that wouldn't make your eyes glaze over (me, I like organic chemistry, but I seem to be among the few), but could find none that would accomplish that end. So, I'm reduced to using this bit from Ask an Expert on
Popularly referred to as the body's natural tranquilizer, GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is an amino acid produced in the brain. It acts as a neurotransmitter--a chemical that fosters communication between nerve cells--and helps to keep stress-related nerve impulses at bay.

GABA supplements may help to ...
  • Promote sound sleep. GABA participates in promoting relaxation, which explains why many well-known anxiety medications--Valium among them--target GABA receptors in the brain. But unlike many prescription tranquilizers, GABA is not habit-forming. GABA itself does not cause drowsiness. Instead, by easing anxiety, it simply makes it easier to fall asleep.
  • Allay stress. GABA may be taken to calm the mind and body. In this respect, it is much like better-known prescription tranquilizers, such as Xanax and Valium, but doesn't carry the fear of addiction. Persistent stress may also contribute to depression, and some evidence suggests that GABA may have mood-elevating properties.
That, and more.

If you believe the hype, this blurb from a website selling nutritional supplements should get you pretty excited, particularly if you're trying to maintain your sanity while living in post-apocalyptic New Orleans: (Whoever wrote it needs to go back to school. Sic, sic, sic 'em.)
As a brain/body communicator, GABA balances our judgement and sequential thinking, so is useful with behavioral problems such as impulsive behavior, ADD, ADHD and conduct disorders. GABA is used for anxiety, overcoming emotional imbalance from grief or traumatic situations. Stressful times that leave us feeling overwhelmed, fatigued at work and yet worrying and restless at home and at bedtime need this important neurotransmitter. Take during the day for a more positive outlook on life. Take at night to stop nagging thoughts and worries for falling asleep faster. Get a good night sleep without a hang over feeling and enjoy more energy during the day.
Oh, howz it worling for me? Well, I'm not the best test case. Things that are supposed to calm you stimulate me. And vice versa. (Don't ever give me skullcap tea and expect me to sleep.) And the strangest thing is that even things like Ambien, which have worked for me as far as making me fall asleep, don't seem to kick in until around 4:00 AM, even if I take them at midnight. Then, I feel like it's still kicking when it's time to do the morning routine. I'll take a morning nap after the transportation job is done, but if I haven't taken Ambien, (and I usually don't take it), I don't feel sleepy once I'm up. That feeling never comes. But I'll make myself nap anyway, and I usually am able to fall asleep while the sun's up, with the help of an eye mask. (See that picture in the sidebar? That was taken about 2 years ago, and it depicts the truth.) In total, I'll get between 5-6 hours of sleep between my 2 sessions.

So, GABA taken with taurine seems to have little effect on me around the midnight hour. I'll still shut everything down around 4:30 AM and try to go to sleep, and maybe I'm not clenching my jaws, but I'll be sleepy all morning. Maybe on you normal folks, it would work well. If you try it, let me know.

I've got about a little less than 8 weeks before I'm employed again. In the past, my classes have always been in the afternoons and evenings, but if, by some miracle, UNO employs me full-time --my department chair said there was a slim possibility of this -- I will have classes beginning at 9:30 AM, and 12-hour days. (But only 2 days per week, so that's okay. And if you're unfamiliar with university faculty life, don't get the impression that I'll only work 24 hours a week for a full-time position, because those are just classroom and office hours. I'll spend as much or more time working at home preparing lectures and class activities and doing what I loathe most --grading.) For the sake of my possible-future-morning-students, say a little prayer that I find something that gets me back to a slightly, only slightly more traditional schedule.


Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

The best way to reprogram sleep patterns is said to be sticking to a regular, early morning waking time. Hell to begin with but eventually it resets the sleep clock.

I have never been a fan of melatonin, as the "good stuff" comes from animal brains (and the synthetic doesn't work as well) but it you are desperate it could also help a reset.

then there is good old exercise and no caffeine!

(my day job is in the health world, but thats another story)

3:16 AM  
Blogger Schroeder said...

You're ADHD? A multi-tasker? Drift from one thing to another without completing tasks? A Virgo by chance?

Sounds like me. I've noticed you're posts tend to be made pretty late.

I have a schedule that forces me to get up very early most days. I *love* sleep, so I try to get as much as I can (naps are a bonus).

Notwithstanding my affinity for sleepytime, because I'm forced to get up early, I usually go with less than the optimum number of sleep hours.

Still, I love the peace one finds in the early hours just as the indigo sky turns amber before the sun comes up.

7:26 PM  
Blogger LisaPal said...


And yes.

And, AOF, I do get up early (with kids) and I will often skip the nap and stay up, despite only 1-2 hours sleep. I may get a little sleepy at some point (usually around 6:00 PM) but then it passes and I'm up again all night anyway. I can't keep doing this night after night and I have to be careful because the chronic sleep deprivation caused me some serious problems and I don't want to go through that again.

Here's what the serious problem was: After months of less than 4 hours sleep per night (often much less), I began developing chronic intermittant chest pain that was becomming more acute. After a scary night of intense pain while I was in Washington, DC that sent me to an ER, tests were done and an echocardiogram showed some aortic and tricuspid valve insufficiency. (I've had mitral valve prolapse with mild regurgitation for years with minimal symtoms.) After addressing the chronic sleep deprivation, the aortic and tricuspid valves improved and the insufficiency disappeared. That was the state of things last we checked. But if I go too long woth too little sleep, the chest pain returns.

So, I've got to be careful with any plan that might produce sleep deprivation, even if temporary.

12:02 AM  
Blogger Schroeder said...

Well now that's interesting how your heart responds to sleep patterns. It's fascinating to see how brain processes affect physical health -- how, more specifically, the sympathetic nervous system, which we don't normally consider something we have control over, can, in fact, be manipulated -- often, unfortunately, without consciously knowing it, and to our own demise.

... and, you're a medical professional?

No. I gather that you aren't, but you sure can talk the talk.

7:58 AM  

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