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Ka Punahou

The Student News Site of Punahou School

Ka Punahou

The Student News Site of Punahou School

Ka Punahou

Gen Z Needs More ZZZs

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The world is witnessing the most sleep-deprived generation in history, with medical experts declaring it as an epidemic. A common misconception is that children need less sleep as they mature. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine states adolescents need between eight to ten hours of sleep each night. Yet, more than 70% of American teenagers are falling well short of this, and unsurprisingly, data on teens’ sleep deficits have alarmed researchers and medical professionals. To combat this exponentially growing issue, schools across the nation have implemented later start times for their middle and high school students. Sleep is essential for brain development, overnight bodily recovery, and a heightened sense of emotional resilience. When teens get the appropriate amount of sleep, they can expect to see positive results in academics, athletics, and most of all, mental wellbeing. 


Sleeping the recommended hours boosts overall success in school. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine found every hour of sleep a student loses, negatively hurts their grades by 25 to 34 percent. While that may not seem significant, it could very well mean the difference between an A or a B. When we are in our deepest sleep (NREM), the knowledge collected from the day is exported to our long term memory. These important pieces of information are recalled in exams and daily assignments, therefore elevating one’s academic performance.


 A frequent teen approach to studying is staying up all night to cram for an exam the next day, commonly known as an “all-nighter.” Many believe this to be an effective technique, but in reality, it is extremely difficult to focus and learn in a sleep-deprived state; one’s judgment is heavily impaired in the morning. According to Oxford Academic, “losing just 1.5 hours of sleep in one night could make you up to 32% less alert the next day. Students will likely find it harder to pay attention in class or concentrate on lessons if they aren’t getting a full night’s sleep.” Next time a student has an exam to study for, it is good advice to put away the books and prioritize eight solid hours of sleep. 


In addition, sleep plays a major factor in an athlete’s success. Increased sleep is known to produce better results in reaction time, coordination, and split-second decision making. A study by the National Library of Medicine concluded that college women’s tennis players “showed increased sleep led to better scores in matches and improved serving accuracy from 36% to 42%.” Another study concluded that with appropriate sleep, swimmers improved their times off start blocks by 17%. All of these differences could win the game. Not only is athletic performance improved with sleep, but the recovery process is boosted as well because the athlete’s heart, tissues, and cells are restored during the night. Sleep also consolidates memories, thus athletic development and muscle memory are retained.


 It is for this reason that Punahou coaches urge their athletes to get a good night’s rest. Ikaika Jobe ‘01, director of Punahou Tennis, said that “one of the most important things you can do as an athlete is sleep. It allows you to perform with a clear mind because you aren’t thinking about being tired or feeling tired.” With experience as a former professional athlete, Jobe ‘01 added that, “when I get a lot of sleep, I really feel like I can practice for a longer period of time and I can push myself. When I don’t get enough sleep, I’m almost looking to just get that practice over with minimal amount of effort. Less sleep likely leads to more injuries because your muscles have not gotten adequate rest to recover.” 


Lastly and most importantly, sleep has a massive effect on mental health. Studies show that a restful night helps foster both mental and emotional resilience, while sleep deprivation creates negative thinking and emotional vulnerability. According to Newport Academy, just an hour of missed rest was associated with a 38% increase in the risk of feeling hopeless and depressed. Sleep is the number one tool in minimizing the risk of depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Despite this, 2 out of 3 adolescents are getting less than 7 hours of sleep each night. 


How can we combat this rising problem and improve teen sleep? Schools across the nation have taken measures to address this issue. California was the first state to mandate a later school start time in 2022, ensuring that middle school and high school classes cannot start class before 8 or 8:30 AM. School districts in Washington and Minnesota also pushed back school start times. These policies are supported by countless studies repeatedly showing immense benefits in the power of sleep for adolescents. 


Many students are proponents for later start times. Lauren Sadayasu ‘25 shared her perspective and experience with sleep: academics and extracurriculars weigh heavily on her sleep schedule. “As a junior, I have definitely slept considerably less this year than any other year of high school. Freshman and Sophomore year I would get around seven and a half hours of sleep, but this year I get on average 5 and a half hours of sleep.” Sadayasu reflected on the impact of this in her life commenting, “it is difficult to stay awake during my morning classes and less sleep has resulted in me becoming quickly irritated. I feel so much better when I get to sleep in on the weekends.” 


Following California’s shift in start times, I interviewed Academy Dean Jonah Ka’akua ‘97, to get his take on whether the school would push back the Academy start times. “When I was a student, we started at 7:30. I remember having math class in the front row early in the morning. That was tough. It was tough not just for students, but for teachers as well.” He also noted, “The pandemic then hit, and it gave us an opportunity to reevaluate schedules. We ultimately pushed back start times to 8:00. The results have been a lot better: academic performance and attendance goes up.” Ka’akua ‘97 added, “the school has considered moving start times back even later, but that has posed some logistical issues for parents and after school activities.”


There are ways to improve your sleep, by having a consistent sleep schedule, limiting caffeine, keeping your sleep space separate from your study area, and putting electronic devices away as early as possible. While it remains unclear what the future of school start times at Punahou will be, it is undeniable that sleep is fundamental for teen success in education, athletics, and mental health. 

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