When you lie down to sleep at night, your body cycles through four sleep stages that help to support your mental and physical health. One way that it does so is by controlling the release of hormones, the chemical messengers that your body uses for every conceivable purpose, from growth and repair to mood and energy levels.
One of the hormones most closely tied to sleep is human growth hormone (HGH), and without adequate sleep, your HGH production can suffer. Through the release of HGH while you sleep, your body promotes growth and regeneration, a process that is particularly important for growing kids and elite athletes.
Read on to learn more about how sleep and HGH work together to help keep you strong and healthy, and what you can do to encourage optimal HGH secretion.
What Is the Human Growth Hormone?
The human growth hormone (HGH), also known as the growth hormone (GH), is a hormone produced within the pituitary gland1 that is important for childhood growth, strength, injury recovery, exercise performance and recovery, and metabolism.
The reason that HGH supports growth and physical performance is that it’s involved in cell regeneration and reproduction. When any part of our bodies grows, whether it’s the whole body as during adolescence, or the muscles as during weight lifting, HGH is what stimulates this growth.
Without HGH, our bodies will not be able to repair and grow properly. This is why children with low levels of HGH experience stunted growth and adults with low levels of HGH tend to have lower muscle mass and exercise capacity.
Sleep and HGH
In adults, nearly 75 percent4 of HGH is secreted during sleep, with the remainder being released after exercise and throughout the day. The beginning of sleep is the most important for HGH production, with much of the HGH being secreted earlier in the night.3
Since sleep is vital for most HGH production, not getting enough sleep can hinder HGH production. In kids, experts say that while a single night of sleep deprivation won’t stunt their growth, long-term sleep deprivation may affect their growth5 and increase their risk of other health complications like weight gain and diabetes.
This demonstrates the importance of getting good sleep nightly to encourage optimal growth hormone release, and with it, healthy metabolism, growth, and repair. Adequate sleep is of particular importance for children, athletes, and anyone trying to recover from an injury or illness.
What Happens to HGH and Your Health When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep
Sleep deprivation or low-quality sleep results in decreased HGH production. In adults, there are multiple health consequences of long-term deficient HGH levels, including2:
- Increased body fat
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Worse mood and overall well-being
- Heart, muscle, and bone weakness
However, it’s important to note that some people may develop an HGH deficiency because of hypopituitarism, which is when some or all hormones in the brain are deficient, and this might include HGH.2
As mentioned, kids who don’t get enough sleep long-term may stunt their growth.5 However, they may also experience the following symptoms from HGH deficiency2:
- A younger-looking face
- Weakened hair growth
- Delayed puberty
So, how much sleep should you get? This can vary by age and by individual lifestyle and genetics. As a general rule, adults over 18 should get between seven and nine6 hours of sleep. As you grow older, the quantity of sleep that you require declines, but so too does your production of HGH.1
Changes in HGH as You Age
Humans experience a rapid reduction in the production of HGH as we grow older. According to researchers, HGH increases in childhood, peaks during puberty, and declines as you get older.1
This reduction follows logically when you look at sleep changes correlated with aging. As you grow older, chances are that your quality and quantity of sleep decrease. As this occurs, the amount of time that you spend in deep sleep decreases7. With HGH production occurring during deep sleep (the third sleep stage), less deep sleep means less HGH production.
We mentioned above that HGH is important for recovery, strength, and metabolism, which may explain why older adults are less strong and have slower metabolisms.
How to Boost HGH Levels for Better Sleep
If you scour the internet, you will find countless products that claim to boost your levels of HGH. Supplements are the most popular, but you can also find injectable and topical products.
The most common, and likely most effective and safest, of these methods are supplements. HGH supplements are particularly popular amongst athletes who want to increase their HGH levels to support optimal physical performance and muscle mass.
While there are some safety concerns to taking HGH, it could be a useful supplement for aging adults and children and adults with an HGH deficiency. As for its benefits for adults with healthy levels of HGH, its risks are likely to outweigh its minimal benefits. It’s always a good idea to consult with your doctor before taking any new supplements.
Naturally Boosting HGH: Sleep, Diet, and Exercise
There is one surefire way to support optimal HGH production in your body: get enough sleep. Sleep deficiencies are the most common cause of deficient HGH, and sleep is the safest way to increase HGH levels back to normal.
While much of HGH production occurs when you sleep at night, it is also secreted during the day. Exercise and a healthy diet promote HGH secretion throughout the day.
In particular, high-sugar diets are detrimental to HGH production.2 This means that it’s important to consume whole, unprocessed foods that do not have hidden added sugars in them. Try reducing your consumption of fast food, processed food, sweetened drinks, and other foods with added sugar.
As for exercise, the most beneficial form of exercise to boost HGH levels is high-intensity exercise8. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is one method where you will work out with high enough intensity to promote heightened HGH secretion.
HIIT workouts are those that involve short, intense bursts of exercise intermixed with less intense physical activity. CrossFit workouts are one example of a popular HIIT program. What’s great about this type of workout is that you can experience benefits for your HGH levels and health in as little as 10-20 minutes.
The human growth hormone is influential in many aspects of your life, and if you want optimal physical performance and health, it’s important to encourage HGH secretion. Sleep and HGH are intimately tied, with adequate sleep being the most important thing you can do to support optimal HGH levels. Additionally, a low-sugar diet and high-intensity exercise can further increase HGH production and resultant benefits.
Nicole has spent much of her life pursuing health and wellness for herself and those around her. For four years, she has used her education in biology and her passion for a healthy lifestyle to craft educational articles and coach hundreds of people in diet and nutrition. Nicole knows that it takes a holistic view of wellness to achieve excellent health. Even when her clients eat whole foods and exercise daily, they rarely reach their goals without an optimized sleep routine. You will find Nicole reading study after study and following countless wellness experts as a way to acquire abundant knowledge that she can share with her readers. Her mission is to provide others with the foundation that they need to live their best lives.
- Brinkman, Joshua E., et al. “Physiology, Growth Hormone”. StatPearls. Last modified May 1, 2023.
- “Human Growth Hormone (HGH)”. Cleveland Clinic. Last modified June 21, 2022.
- Tarasiuk, A., et al. “Role of growth hormone-releasing hormone in sleep and growth impairments induced by upper airway obstruction in rats”. European Respiratory Journal. 2011.
- “The Sleep Effect – How Your Nightly Zzzs Affect Your Health”. Community Medical Centers. 2017.
- “Can Lack of Sleep Stunt Your Growth?”. Nemours Teen Health. Last modified January 2021.
- Watson MD, Nathaniel F., et al. “Recommended Amount of Sleep for a Healthy Adult: A Joint Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society”. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. 2015.
- Li PhD, Junxin., Vitiello PhD, Michael V., Gooneratne MD, Nalaka. “Sleep in Normal Aging”. National Library of Medicine. 2017.
- Godfrey, Richard J., Madgwick, Zahra., Whyte, Gregory P. “The exercise-induced growth hormone response in athletes”. Sports Medicine. 2003.