Spring signifies new growth. In our household, in light of recent annual physicals for the tween and the teen, there’s been a lot of talk about growth. It continued over spring break as we paused to reflect on their growth over the years when our kitchen paint refresh stopped just short of a few swift brush strokes over the marks on the wall of measurement.
With a 14-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son, the wall shows spurts of growth and aligns times where their height differences were the greatest and least. Their handwritten marks proudly chart their growth and hold so much of the story that a paint-over strategy really didn’t hold any weight with the family votes.
So the paint refresh in universal gray stops just short of the marks on the buttery yellow paint of 12 years. It also happens to be a good time to pause and talk about this critical time in tween and teen development. Thanks to a one hour and 15 minute annual exam, the conversation we started with our pediatrician continued at home. And I think it had an impact on the kids.
It was a conversation that touched on health concerns from food sensitivities to asthma, and inflammation to sleep. We talked about carbs as instant gratification for the brain and why they’re so addictive. We touched on how the diet is so closely tied to inflammation. We ventured into the gut health discussion and why Gatorade (organic or not) is non-beneficial and detrimental to our body’s ecosystems. (Later, the kids would wonder, did I tell our doc what to say? It sounds exactly like what you say, Mom)
Just as the doctor was beginning to sound like their incessantly nagging mom, he asked the question: How tall do you want to be? To which they both expressed their goal heights. Then he launched into a discussion I have not yet had with them about growth hormone and sleep, which truly piqued their interest.
(Because I wasn’t taking notes, I immediately took to online resources to pull my thoughts together around this. The remainder of this post is content from various sources, organized to share a compelling story specifically for teens).
Growth hormone is released into the bloodstream from the anterior pituitary gland. Growth hormone acts on many parts of the body to promote growth in children. Once the growth plates in the bones (epiphyses) have fused growth hormone does not increase height. In adults, it does not cause growth but it helps to maintain normal body structure and metabolism, including helping to keep blood glucose levels within set levels (more here).
The article goes on to say that growth hormone levels are increased by sleep, exercise and low glucose levels in the blood. They also increase around the time of puberty. So to maximize your height potential, kids, let’s be sure that growth hormone is being released by controlling all of the diet, exercise and sleep factors that we can!
Think of growth hormone and sugar as opposites. The higher your insulin levels (from intake of high-sugar food and beverages), the lower your growth hormone levels. High blood sugar inhibits your growth hormone production, so you should avoid foods high in sugar generally, but especially before bed, if you want to avoid inhibiting its natural production during sleep.
Regular exercise promotes growth hormone secretion. Pulses of it are released during the day and can be affected by lack of exercise and an unhealthy diet. Exercise in turn promotes quality sleep by expending your energy. And did you know: one of the best ways to promote growth hormone secretion through exercise is with high-intensity interval training.
The National Sleep Foundation cites that 85 percent of teenagers are sleeping less than 8 .5 hours a night. The Sleep Doctor cites research that teens need between 8-10 hours of nightly sleep to feel rested. My son is getting 8.5 hours, but my daughter, the night-owl (biologically, it’s a teen thing), is not. She’s maybe getting seven hours (not near enough!) then crashing hard on weekends, which is even more detrimental.
Back to our doctor’s words of wisdom: getting to sleep by 9:30P (if you’re a 7:00A waker) maximizes growth hormone release. The online background: a person cycles through the stages of sleep four to five times each night. Growth hormone is released during the first few times you experience stage three sleep. Sleep deprivation has a big impact on your sleep cycles, and consequently impacts how much, if any, of your growth hormone gets released during your initial cycles of stage three sleep (read up here).
We’ve already recommitted to our no-tech bedroom zone 9:00P rule. It’s SO challenging – I get pushback from one nearly every night. The doctor visit renewed my energy to keeping enforcing.
We continue to work on the diet by cutting out carbs and ensuring kids get their daily multivitamins, including vitamin D and omegas. I’m also adding a glucose control supplement I have into their chocolate milk occasionally. The daily exercise is also a grind. Sometimes they work out so hard during the sports they participate in, there’s little energy left for daily, moderate exercise like walking our dog.
What are you sharing with your teens related to sleep and health? What struggles or successes have you had? I’ve love to hear them! — Jen