• Question: do you grow in your sleep?

    Asked by jennaxboo on 26 Jun 2019.
    • Photo: Kaitlin Wade

      Kaitlin Wade answered on 26 Jun 2019:

      It depends on many factors – mainly age. People who are going through puberty tend to grow a tiny bit every day, not just in their sleep but also during the day. So technically, yes, but only at times when you are growing before adulthood.

    • Photo: Rebecca Moon

      Rebecca Moon answered on 26 Jun 2019:

      Yes, sleep is really important to growth in children and young people. Adults are no longer growing and they don’t grow in their sleep. Growth is dependent on a chemical or hormone called growth hormone, and this is released mostly at night time whilst we are asleep.

      And we are taller in the morning that at nighttime too – see my answer to your other great questions!

    • Photo: Marianne King

      Marianne King answered on 26 Jun 2019:

      I’m convinced that one night I went to sleep 5ft 7 and woke up the next morning 6ft 1. I’m sure this wasn’t the case but yes sleep is very important to help us heal and grow. It’s also really important for our mental health as well to get a good night’s sleep.

    • Photo: Matthew Bareford

      Matthew Bareford answered on 26 Jun 2019:

      Short answer is yes.

      Essentially during the day our spines compress (bones push down on each other) as we walk. During the night our spines then decompress (bones move back apart) so in essence we do all grow in our sleep. Equally, our cells in our bodies are constantly growing too day and night!

    • Photo: Alex Blenkinsop

      Alex Blenkinsop answered on 26 Jun 2019:

      Yes! Especially when you’re young, which is one of the reasons babies sleep so much.

    • Photo: Nina Rzechorzek

      Nina Rzechorzek answered on 26 Jun 2019:

      Great question – and generally I agree with the other answers that growth can happen during waking periods as well as sleep, and that the vertebral column (spine) undergoes small amounts of compression during standing that are relieved when lying down (but this is not ‘true growth’ once the vertebral column has matured). However, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep in particular is really important for maturation of the brain. Proportionately, the amount of REM sleep we (and other mammals) get is highest just before birth when massive bursts of electrical activity during REM sleep promote brain cell growth and new connections between brain cells (neurons). There is a correlation between reduced amounts of REM sleep and autism – although whether this lack of REM is a cause, consequence, or an unrelated ‘bystander’ of the disorder remains to be proven. At 6 months of age there is roughly a 50/50 split between the amount of REM and non-REM sleep we experience in a night; by the late teen years it is more like 80/20 in favour of non-REM – the reason being that in adolescence lots of deep non-REM sleep is needed to ‘prune’ the brain connections we have made, removing useless connections and refining the circuits so that they become super-efficient. Although the amount of brain cell connectivity decreases overall during this brain development process, the physical size of our brain cells, and thus the physical size of the brain increases. In teenagers and young adults with schizophrenia there is a two-to-three-fold reduction in deep non-REM sleep, and it remains possible that this could be due to faulty ‘pruning’. Although most brain ‘growth’ has completed by the end of adolescence, some plasticity is retained in the system throughout adulthood – which is how we can form new memories and learn new things (although it gets harder!). Sleep is critical to consolidate these experiences and so I would argue that brain ‘growth’ continues during sleep throughout life.

      More generally, growth hormone normally surges at night, but this surge is shut down in people who are sleep deprived – so not getting enough sleep could certainly impact on your general growth whilst you are developing. Growth hormone is still important in adults too though, especially for replenishing the lining of blood vessels (the endothelium). This is one of the many reasons why sleep deprivation increases the risk of atherosclerosis, heart attack and stroke. Interesting point of note: at the turn of the millennium, there was an economic pressure in Greece to reduce the siestas (afternoon naps) typical of Greek culture – in a study of 23,000 adults followed over 6 years, those that stopped having siestas had a 37% increase in their risk of death from heart disease.

      Much of what I have discussed above is adapted from the book ‘Wy We Sleep’ by Matthew Walker – it’s based on a wealth of scientific evidence, beautifully written for a general audience, and covers all the latest things we know about the benefits of sleep and what happens to our bodies when we don’t get enough of it.

    • Photo: Shobhana Nagraj

      Shobhana Nagraj answered on 27 Jun 2019:

      It might seem as if we grow in our sleep, as our spine and the spongy tissue between our back bones in the spine (called intervertebral discs) relaxes and ‘expands’ back to its normal shape. When we wake up and walk, the spine has to carry the weight of our bodies and these spongy intervertebral discs get flattened and squashed. Sleep takes the pressure off the spine and when we wake up, it might seem we are slightly taller because of this. On a hormonal level, Growth Hormone is released by a gland in the brain (pituitary gland) at night time. Growth hormone helps our bones and our bodies to grow -which is why having good sleep is so important in the long run, to help us grow well.

    • Photo: Deepak Chandrasekharan

      Deepak Chandrasekharan answered on 27 Jun 2019:

      Sleep is interesting as it is the only time we ‘put ourselves in danger’ because we’re not aware of what is going on around us – it must have such massive benefits for us to take this risk – and one of these is growth!