You may have heard it as a child: If you want to grow up, then you have to go to bed early. Is that true? Do you actually grow taller when you sleep a lot? Or is it rather a way to persuade children to sleep so that adults can have some peace and quiet time for themselves?
Your height depends on many factors, most of them genetic. That means your height is determined primarily by how tall your parents are. But what if I told you that sleep could also play a role in your growth? Yes, that’s right! The amount and quality of sleep you get can have an impact on your height.
To understand why sleep is important for growth, we need to dive into the fascinating world of growth hormones. These hormones, specifically the human growth hormone (HGH or hGH), are responsible for stimulating bone growth and increasing height.
That’s where other factors come into play such as exercise, diet, general health – and sleep. Because it’s during your sleep when your body produces the vast majority of the necessary growth hormones – about two-thirds of the growth hormone release is done while you sleep.
What is the growth hormone?
The growth hormone, also called the human growth hormone (HGH or hGH), is produced in the pituitary glands in your brain from where it is released into your bloodstream. This process is responsible for a range of anabolic activities resulting in a better muscle tone and more rapid healing of wounds. It promotes a healthy metabolism as well as good physical performance; and, as long as you are growing, the growth hormone stimulates your bone growth and, therefore, an increase in height.
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Growth hormone levels peak during puberty, then gradually decline with age, but the pituitary glands never totally stop the production of the hormone. Therefore, growth hormone production is not only essential in adolescence but also has an important influence on the lifelong aging process.
When do you stop growing?
We need to be clear about one thing: The growth hormones can have a positive effect on your growth only as long as your growth plates are open.
The growth plates are the area of growing tissue on both ends of the long bones in growing children and determines the future length of the mature bone. Sometime during adolescence, this can basically be anywhere between the ages of 18 to 27, the growth plates close and are replaced by solid bone.
That means if you are already fully grown and your growth plates have closed, then you will find that neither sleep nor anything else, will increase your height (but sleep will of course still have a crucial impact on your overall health condition.)
This is why it is true: Growing children need to get a lot of sleep because that is when the growth hormone release impacts their growth.
How much does sleep contribute to your body’s growth?
Sleep indeed plays a crucial role in your physical growth and development. The healthier your sleep is, the better your body can produce growth hormones.
However, healthy sleep refers not primarily to the length of your sleep but in particular to the quality of your sleep, more precisely to your deep sleep because that’s when the growth hormone is released.
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Deep sleep accounts for about 20% to 25% of your total sleep, and you go through the stage of deep sleep four to five times every night provided you have a normal sleep pattern. The growth hormone is primarily released during the first few times you fall into deep sleep.
Why deep sleep is essential for growth hormone secretion
Y. Takahashi, D. M. Kipnis, and W. H. Daughaday of Washington University School of Medicine observed some interesting facts about nightly growth hormone secretion patterns when they monitored eight young adults (four males and four females) during their sleep.
- They observed that there was a significant increase in blood GH concentration within 90 minutes of sleep onset.
- The rise in GH secretion was gradual; the initial surge was detected 20 minutes to 40 minutes after sleep onset.
- While some individuals reached peak GH secretion 40 minutes earlier than expected, others took much longer to reach peak GH secretion. The average time to reach peak GH secretion was 70 minutes after sleep onset.
- GH concentration levels were high for 1.5 to 3.5 hours before slowly returning to baseline levels.
- GH secretion patterns were reproducible throughout the night, with sharp increases and decreases, with initial peak secretion being highest.
- Those who had interrupted sleep or were awakened for 5 to 26 minutes never reached another peak secretion when they resumed sleep 2.5 to 3 hours after the start of sleep, and never reached another peak secretion after reaching the initial peak secretion.
- However, those who had interrupted sleep for two to three hours reached another peak GH secretion when they returned to sleep, most likely because they had another extended stage of deep sleep.
Deep sleep is the most relaxing sleep stage where your body functions have a chance to fully rest. It is during this stage that the growth hormone makes its appearance, helping to restore your body from the activities of the day and stimulating the thickening and lengthening of your bones, especially if you’re still growing.
Since sleep deprivation is negatively impacting your sleep cycles, especially your deep sleep stage, it is also responsible for a lack of growth hormone release during your deep sleep phase. That is why good sleep hygiene based on regular good quality sleep is by far the most effective way to increase the growth hormone levels in your blood and to grow into a healthy adult as a result.
How can you determine your individual need for sleep to grow tall?
Each person has an individual daily need for sleep. It’s not necessarily about saying that the more you sleep, the better it is for the body growth. Too much sleep lowers your metabolism, which in turn can negatively impact your body weight.
The most important thing is to have a healthy sleep cycle every day with four to five deep sleep stages. Appropriate bedtime does not necessarily mean sleeping longer, but above all, having better quality sleep. On average, a young adult who is growing needs at least 8 hours sleep every day. Teens need 9 hours or more.
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The best way to find out exactly how much bedtime you need is no complicated math. Just go to bed, sleep and do not use an alarm clock in the morning, but wake up naturally instead. Your body has its own internal biological clock that indicates exactly how long you need to sleep.
As long as you have developed good sleep hygiene, your body will take care of itself. When you wake up naturally and feel energetic and well-rested throughout the day, you definitely had enough sleep.
Track your sleep this way over a period of two weeks and then average the number of hours you slept every night. That is your target sleep time each night.
Is the sleeping position important to help your body grow tall?
Not directly but since your sleeping position often impacts the quality of your sleep, it can have an indirect effect on your growth. Sleeping in the right position helps you to keep your spine in alignment and to relax your neck.
An incorrect posture, on the other hand, put strains on your neck, shoulders and back, often resulting in severe pain and thus sleep deprivation.
These are some helpful tips on how to find appropriate sleep postures:
- The mattress. Your mattress should be comfortable and firm. If this is not the case and you cannot or do not want to buy a new mattress right now, place a wooden plank underneath the mattress. Sleeping on a harder surface helps to align and stretch the spine and contributes to a healthy blood circulation, which in turn supports the growth hormone supply.
- Sleep on your back and put a small pillow under your knees. This supports to align your spine, reduces stress on your hips and prevents back pain caused by sleeping in a bent position. A slight lifting of the knees also helps your brain to get more oxygen. The more oxygen added to your brain, the better the energy conversion and thus the production of growth hormones.
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- If you can not sleep on your back, choose the side position with knees slightly bent. Again, placing a narrow pillow between the knees helps to keep your back straight.
- If you prefer to sleep on your stomach, place a flat pillow under the pelvis area. This helps to keep the spine in alignment. Even more importantly, sleep either without a pillow or use only a flat pillow for your head to keep the neck straight.
- Do not use a high pillow for your head because it makes your neck bent forward and your back arched in an unnatural position. This will put strains on your neck, shoulders, and back. The pillow for your head should be rather flat in order to support the natural curve of your neck and in your lower back.
Are there other ways to increase the amount of growth hormone in your body?
As already described, sleep accounts for most of the growth hormone production in your body. However, about one-quarter of the growth hormone is distributed at intervals over the day when you are awake. An important measure to stimulate daily growth hormone production is exercise, while too little exercise may hinder the release of the hormone.
Exercise has a twofold effect: on the one hand it has a positive effect on the release of the growth hormone during the day, and on the other hand, it helps you to get good sleep. The combination of exercise and a regular sleep schedule is very powerful and can therefore not be emphasized enough.
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Any sport is good, but research has shown that particularly high-intensity interval training boosts the secretion of the hormone. But also weight lifting or other strength exercises are very effective.
Another important aspect is your diet. Sugar, in particular, plays a decisive role here. Sugar is a direct enemy of growth hormone production. The more sugary foods and drinks you ingest, the higher your insulin level rises, which in turn causes your growth hormone level to drop. Avoid sugary foods and beverages, especially before you go to sleep, as this will definitely have a negative impact on your growth hormone production during sleep.
Should you take synthetic human growth hormones?
Only if you are a child been diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency causing slow growth and short stature. The cause of growth hormone deficiency or insufficiency in children is not always known, but it can be caused by a genetic disorder or chronic kidney disease. Growth hormone injection treatment is only available on prescription.
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Synthetic human growth hormone is no beauty drug that helps you looking youthful. Injecting yourself with synthetic human growth hormone can be dangerous and is illegal without a prescription. So stay away from any type of self-medication with regard to synthetic human growth hormones.
While genetics primarily determine your height, sleep does play a role in your growth potential.
The production of growth hormones, particularly during deep sleep, can influence bone growth and increase height.
By prioritizing good sleep hygiene, engaging in regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, and avoiding synthetic growth hormones, you can optimize your body’s natural growth potential.
So, next time someone tells you to go to bed early, remember that they might just be looking out for your growth and overall well-being.