A large body of evidence indicates the existence of a robust relationship between SW sleep and GH release in the human and is consistent with the hypothesis that activation of hypothalamic GHRH activity is involved in the control of both SW sleep and nocturnal GH release (136). The remarkable correlations between increased SW sleep and augmented GH release demonstrated in studies using SW-enhancing drugs indicate that pharmacological agents that reliably stimulate SW sleep may represent a new class of powerful GH secretagogues.
Aging is associated with marked decreases in both the duration of SW stages and the amount of GH secretion (13,46,74,139). Although the clinical implications of decreased SW sleep are unclear, multiple studies have indicated that the relative GH deficiency of the elderly is associated with increased fat tissue and abdominal obesity, reduced muscle mass and strength, and reduced exercise capacity (140-142). Compounds that stimulate SW sleep may represent a novel approach to increase endogenous GH secretion in older adults via the pharmacological enhancement of a physiological stimulus acting at a normal time of day. Such approaches will require the development of new lines of research since commercially available hypnotics, including the benzodiazepines, improve sleep efficiency but do not increase SW sleep (143).
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