Why Do Children Worry About Height And Does Sleeping Affect Height?
Can sleeping make children grow taller? While the science is contradictory, concerns about height are still valid. For instance, tall stature is associated with good overall physical health. Additionally, most cultures generally assign positive traits to tall people more often than they do short people.
The assumption of whether sleep makes children grow taller stems from the known production of human growth hormone during deep sleep. Registered nurse and clinical sleep educator Terry Cralle provides a brief image of this process on her website. When we sleep, the hypothalamus—a region of the brain associated with other systems like hunger, temperature, and thirst—signals the pituitary gland to release growth hormone. This growth hormone travels to the liver, which sends an insulin-like hormone to the bones, muscles, and fatty tissues. There, the hormone stimulates the creation of new cells and the regeneration of old cells.
When we understand the vital impact of growth hormone on human development, we might assume that sleep causes height. After all, sleep produces growth hormones, which influences bone density and length, which leads to taller height. Yet, when scientists say two things are linked, that does not mean that one causes the other. Human biology is complex; genetics, diet, exercise, and other factors are just as likely to determine a person’s height, which generally caps off after puberty. Sleeping longer will not automatically turn a child into the next LeBron James, and doing so can get in the way of other important activities.
But before we disregard the question, let’s investigate why our youth may be concerned about their height in the first place. Afterwards, we will look at the evidence on how much sleep children need to grow taller. Finally, we will discuss why sleep is essential for all areas of growth besides height, offering tips to help kids sleep better and lessen their height anxieties.
Why Would Children Worry About Their Height?
Like it or not, people of all ages assume traits based on another person’s height like they do other physical characteristics. In a 2005 Gallup opinion poll, 71 percent of American adults rated that taller women are more easily respected at work than shorter women. When asked the same question about men, that number rose to 86 percent. It’s no wonder why roughly half of men and women in the survey’s lowest height bracket wish they were taller.
Opinions about height also affect boys and girls differently. The same Gallup survey asked adults their opinion on how the height of preteens and teens might affect their performance in three categories: involvement in sports, ease of making friends, and self-confidence in social situations. Regardless of gender, adults overwhelmingly assumed that taller youth have an easier time becoming involved in sports. However, they also assumed that shorter girls have a slight edge over taller girls in the other two categories. As for boys, 73 percent said that taller preteen and teen boys make friends more easily, and 81-82 percent said they also are more self-confident.
Although this survey sourced adult opinions, it reflects the mixed pressure of girls to be taller or shorter, as well as the overall pressure for boys to be taller.
Perceptions Reflect Actions
Tall people are also treated differently than short people, even in brief interactions. In a three-part study spanning 27 days of observation, social scientists tested whether pedestrians would give way to taller people (i.e., walk around them or let them pass) both on a narrow sidewalk and on a busy shopping street. Indeed, pedestrians were more likely to yield to taller individuals than they were to shorter individuals. Additionally, taller pedestrians were more likely to collide with shorter people who were just standing in their way. Shorter pedestrians, on the other hand, would more often side-step the tall person to avoid any physical contact.
These results may reflect the emotional burden short children and teens face. Even if they are not bullied directly, they may feel insignificant when taller peers collide with them in the halls. It might not only be other kids: Depending on their height, teachers and other adults may treat children as older or younger than their peers. They might assume shorter youth, for instance, are stunted emotionally, physically, and mentally. These assumptions turn into actions that can negatively affect their development.
And because sleeping is something we all do, it may seem like an easy shortcut to growing taller—to, both literally and metaphorically, stand out from the crowd.
So, Does Sleeping Actually Affect Height?
Unfortunately, few studies investigate whether sleep can make someone grow taller, having so far only produced conflicting results.
A review published in the Brazillian Journal of Pediatrics references two studies that found a positive link. One in Singapore found that shortened sleep duration was linked to shorter stature. Another in North America likewise found that longer nighttime sleep, and even sleep during the day, was linked to growing taller. However, a study in the United Kingdom found the opposite effect, and a second North-American study found no long-term growth whatsoever.
While the link between sleep and height remains largely unclear, sleep is still essential to childhood growth in other areas. Our circadian rhythm controls several bodily processes, including our metabolism. It’s no surprise that the same review discovered a clear link between shorter sleep and risk of childhood obesity. Lack of sleep can likewise impair their performance at school, work, and extracurricular activities. It can also cause irritability, which can negatively affect their relationships. So, focusing on height alone might be—pardon the pun—a little short-sighted.
How Can I Help My Children Sleep Better?
As a parent or guardian, the best thing you can do for your child is to model healthy sleep habits. If that feels like a tall order, consider these tips that we at AcousticSheep® have suggested in the past for getting children and teenagers to sleep better, with additional recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
For school-age children, have them:
- Stick to a consistent sleep schedule, usually 9-12 hours a night.
- Read a bedtime story of their choosing.
- Reflect on the day, talking about their stresses and worries.
- Eat dinner 3-4 hours before their bedtime.
- Take a warm bath.
For teens, have them:
- Stick to a consistent sleep schedule, usually 8-10 hours a night.
- Turn off their cell phones and other electronic devices an hour prior.
- Avoid naps longer than 40 minutes.
- Get up and do something productive after failing to fall asleep for 20 minutes.
- Avoid stress, including anything work- or school-related, before going to bed.
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How Can I Ease My Child’s Height Anxieties?
Even if you tell your kids that it’s hard to say whether sleeping longer might make them grow taller, that still won’t curb their anxiety. It also will not stop adults and other children from making assumptions about their height.
Former parenting columnist at The Washington Post bMarguerite Kelly suggests indirectly promoting your child’s personality. Congratulate them on even small academic achievements, such as completing their homework. Praise the way they treat other people. Support their involvement in activities, such as sports, that would otherwise make them self-conscious. Finally, don’t assume because they are taller or shorter than their peers that they are somehow more or less emotionally mature. Treat them like you would any other child their age while allowing them to “grow at their own speed.”
If you believe that your child’s height may result from medical concerns, such as a hormonal imbalance, please seek out a pediatric endocrinologist to be sure. A professional can connect you with the right resources and treatments.
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