Will lack of sleep affect growth because of nighttime growth hormone deficiencies?

Our daughter is 14 and is one of the top students in her classes, but she loses sleep on school nights (6-7 hours). Will this affect her growth because of nighttime growth hormone deficiencies? This is what her grandparents are repeatedly claiming, and she feels demeaned that her shortness will devalue her status with them. Online articles hint at this, but has this been proven? Most teens lose sleep, yet there is no evidence of this generation getting shorter that I know of.

Thank you for this very important question. It is true that adolescents as a group suffer from deficient sleep. Deficient refers to both short sleep duration and, JUST as importantly, problems with sleep timing. In 2017, the Noble Prize in Physiology and Medicine was awarded to researchers who identified clock genes. This means that every cell in our bodies and our organs and our brain require optimal timing of sleep. Teenagers, compared to adults and younger children, have a biological tendency to go to bed later and wake up later. Some teens have very rigid and shifted timing that causes them significant problems in school and can contribute to health and mental health problems.

With regard to normal growth patterns, there are many sleep-linked hormones (for example, growth hormone). Optimal sleep duration and timing contributes to physical growth, learning, muscle repair, immune function and healthy metabolism. It is very relevant during the pandemic that the public understands that optimal sleep duration and timing before and after vaccinations contributes the development of antibodies, meaning that it improves protections against the flu and probably coronavirus.

So, your parents have part of the story right. Regular bedtimes, on the later side when possible for teenagers, contribute to improved physical and mental health and optimal development. You can also tell your parents and perhaps your daughter that height is only one of the benefits of healthy sleep! The health benefits of optimal sleep are important for the health of the young and the elderly!

This table provides some general guidelines about optimal sleep duration and timing for different age groups.

table showing normal sleep duration

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Daniel Lewin Daniel S. Lewin, PhD, DABSM is a pediatric psychologist, sleep specialist and licensed clinical psychologist. He is Board Certified in Sleep Medicine and Behavioral Sleep Medicine.

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