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Sleep. 1998 Sep 15;21(6):553-66.

Interrelations between sleep and the somatotropic axis.

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Department of Medicine, University of Chicago, Ill 60637, USA.


In the human as in other mammals, growth hormone (GH) is secreted as a series of pulses. In normal young adults, a major secretory episode occurs shortly after sleep onset, in temporal association with the first period of slow-wave (SW) sleep. In men, approximately 70% of the daily GH output occurs during early sleep throughout adulthood. In women, the contribution of sleep-dependent GH release to the daily output is lower and more variable. Studies involving shifts of the sleep-wake cycle have consistently shown that sleep-wake homeostasis is the primary determinant of the temporal organization of human GH release. Effects of circadian rhythmicity may occasionally be detected. During nocturnal sleep, the sleep-onset GH pulse is caused by a surge of hypothalamic GHRH release which coincides with a circadian-dependent period of relative somatostatin disinhibition. Extensive evidence indicates the existence of a consistent relationship between SW sleep and increased GH secretion and, conversely, between awakenings and decreased GH release. There is a linear relationship between amounts of SW sleep--whether measured by visual scoring or by delta activity--and amounts of concomitant GH secretion, although dissociations may occur, most likely because of variable levels of somatostatin inhibition. Pharmacological stimulation of SW sleep results in increased GH release, and compounds which increase SW sleep may therefore represent a novel class of GH secretagogues. During aging, SW sleep and GH secretion decrease with the same chronology, raising the possibility that the peripheral effects of the hyposomatotropism of the elderly may partially reflect age-related alterations in sleep-wake homeostasis. While the association between sleep and GH release has been well documented, there is also evidence indicating that components of the somatotropic axis are involved in regulating sleep. The studies are most consistent in indicating a role for GHRH in promoting NREM and/or SW sleep via central, rather than peripheral, mechanisms. A role for GH in sleep regulation is less well-documented but seems to involve REM, rather than NREM, sleep. It has been proposed that the stimulation of GH release and the promotion of NREM sleep by GHRH are two separate processes which involve GHRH neurons located in two distinct areas of the hypothalamus. Somatostatinergic control of GH release appears to be weaker during sleep than during wake, suggesting that somatostatinergic tone is lower in the hypothalamic area(s) involved in sleep regulation and sleep-related GH release than in the area controlling daytime GH secretion. While the concept of a dual control of daytime and sleep-related GH secretion remains to be directly demonstrated, it allows for the reconciliation of a number of experimental observations.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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