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Could Santa's Lack of Sleep on Christmas Eve Harm His Health?

FRIDAY, Dec. 24 (HealthDay News) -- The lack of sleep experienced by Santa, his elves and reindeer around Christmas may put their health at risk, British sleep experts suggest.

While staying up all night on Christmas Eve may not harm Santa's long-term health, there are short-term risks, according to Professor Franco Cappuccio and Dr. Michelle Miller, of the University of Warwick's Warwick Medical School.

The lack of sleep while Santa travels around the world could make him drowsy, decrease his vigilance and reduce his ability to think and remember. It's possible he could fall asleep at the reins and crash his sleigh, or even deliver presents to the wrong people.

There are some things that could help the Jolly Old Elf, such as a quick nap (no more than 20 minutes) on a rooftop here and there. Or he could have a large cup of coffee, which could give him a boost about 20 minutes later. But Santa can't rely on repeating this several times because the effect of the caffeine will reduce with time and he may suffer nasty side effects, such as heart palpitations and increased blood pressure, the experts warned.

Sleep deprivation increases appetite, so Santa appreciates the treats people leave out for him as he does his rounds. Since sleep debt also leads to obesity, Cappuccio and Miller said they aren't surprised by Santa's big belly.

If you plan to give Santa a treat, make sure it isn't alcohol. His lack of sleep already reduces his level of attention to that of someone who is over the alcohol limit. Booze would greatly increase the risk of a sleigh crash.

While there's no way to avoid a sleepless night on Christmas Eve, Santa can take steps to ensure he and his elves are well-rested before the big night. For example, he could recruit more elves so that they could limit work shifts to 10 hours maximum, with plenty of rest and sleep in between, the experts suggested in a university news release.

Deer normally nap during the day and are active at night. So as long as Rudolph and the rest of the team are well-rested beforehand, they should be ready for their long and demanding journey on Christmas Eve.

Jet lag is a major issue for Santa. In order to deliver presents at exactly midnight all around the world, he has to spend 24 hours in trans-meridian travel with rapid changes in time zones, giving his body clock little chance to adapt, Cappuccio and Miller noted.

If Santa did this year-round, his well-being would be at serious risk. But he'll have a whole year to practice good sleep habits and remain fit and healthy.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute offers a guide to healthy sleep.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of Warwick, news release, Dec. 14, 2010

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