Healthy living

Is Santa a public health menace?

Is Santa a public health menace? Danger to himself and us

Sleep experts have warned that the effects of sleep deprivation, alcohol and unhealthy snacks could turn Santa into a public health menace.

"Every year Santa Claus and his team of elves and reindeers stay awake for days and nights so he can deliver presents to children all over the world for Christmas," said Professor Franco Cappuccio and Dr Michelle Miller, from the University of Warwick Medical School.

"But he could be putting his and their health at risk. Lack of sleep will make him drowsy, his vigilance will fade and his ability to think and remember will diminish. There is risk for himself and others: he could fall asleep at the reins and crash his sleigh. He could even end up delivering the wrong present to the wrong person."

The professor, who has recently published a book on sleep deprivation and how it can damage people's health, thinks it unlikely that Santa will have much time to sleep before the big night, adding to his sleep debt.

"Whilst a little nap on a rooftop here and there (no more than 20 minutes) might help (Santa) in the short-term, it is no substitute for a good 8h night sleep," he said.

The professor also warned Santa about relying on stimulants such as coffee to help stay awake.

"A large cup of coffee could be a quick solution for a little while. It will usually have an effect after about 20 minutes. He should not rely, however, on repeating this several times. The effect will reduce with time and he may also suffer unpleasant side effects, like palpitations and high blood pressure."

Sleep deprivation may also have contributed to Santa's ample girth, the experts said.

"Sleep debt also leads to obesity, his pot belly is not a surprise to us. Don't leave him any booze, though! His sleepiness and tiredness already brings his attention to the level of someone who is over the alcohol limit, and there would be a real risk of him crashing his sleigh."

Perhaps he could share Rudolph's carrot sticks instead.

And the best way to recover from such an all-nighter? "To deliver presents at exactly mid-night all around the world he will have to spend 24h in trans-meridian travel with rapid changes in time zones and little time for his body clock to adapt. He will travel in darkness all the time, so he will be more likely to fall asleep.

"Catch-up sleep helps to recover from the short-term tiredness and fatigue, but will not help avoid the long-term consequences of sleep deprivation. If he were to do this all year round, he would definitely run the risk of dying prematurely."

This article was published on Thu 16 December 2010

Image © deanm1974 -

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