What is…Human Growth Hormone (HGH)?

Human Growth Hormone, also known as somatotropin, is a protein hormone that is manufactured by the pituitary gland. The vast majority of HGH is released into the bloodstream during deep or “slow wave” sleep which occurs during the third and fourth stages of the full five stage sleep cycle.  Deep sleep can only occur when the body is completely relaxed.

HGH Key Functions

  • Maintains proper brain function
  • Supports homeostasis and stimulates the immune system
  • Encourages lipolysis, the conversion of adipose fats into fuel for the body
  • Stimulates protein synthesis which is essential for age appropriate development and maintaining good health.  
  • Stimulates the growth of all internal organs excluding the brain

High HGH production is associated with youth, vigor and higher cognitive performance, with levels peaking during puberty and naturally declining with age. This leads to lost muscle and bone mass, as well as generally lower sleep quality and energy levels.

Insufficient HGH highly correlates with compromised emotional and mental wellbeing. Studies demonstrate that adults who are deficient in HGH experience higher rates of depression.

How to Increase HGH Production

The most effective way to increase HGH production is to consistently achieve deep restful sleep by maintaining a consistent routine that allows for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. While certain activities such as intense exercise can trigger a spike in production, deep sleep is still when the vast majority of HGH is released for any person, so sleep hygiene is of paramount importance.  

Common Obstacles to Deep Sleep

Evidence suggests that disruptions in sleep patterns can significantly inhibit or even stop HGH production. Two common obstacles to achieving deep sleep are sleeping hot or aching joints and muscles.

Sleeping Hot is Exhausting

Temperature regulation is a highly energy intensive process that can range from shivering to sweating at the extremes. Sweating is a cooling mechanism and shivering warms the body. Overheating in bed is often caused or made worse by polyurethane foam mattresses and synthetic sheets which trap heat. The body will work very hard to maintain homeostasis and so as long a sleeper is hot, HGH production will be inhibited.

When Sleep is Not Supported

Secondly, muscles cannot relax with poor support and will continuously struggle adjusting throughout the night, changing positions and manipulating covers to achieve proper spine alignment.

Into the Deep

In the course of a night of sleep, human beings will generally go through four to six complete 70-90 minute sleep cycles composed of five stages. Deep sleep phases are longer in the first few cycles and the final REM phase is longer in later phases. Thus, more HGH is generally produced in the first three sleep cycles which generally occur between 11pm and 3am.

Deep sleep accounts for about one quarter of total time slept and is the most restorative type of sleep. During these non-dreaming stages, there is progression from very light sleep to very deep sleep as brain waves slow down dramatically to delta waves. During stage three, 20-50 percent of brain activity is delta with smaller, faster waves  interspersed. Stage four is characterized by the deepest sleep and consists of 50 percent delta waves on average.

 

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