Santa’s Festive Check-Up: The Health Risks of Santa’s All-Nighter
Author: Jonathan Warren
It’s the most wonderful time of the year – but would Santa agree?
Santa is a busy man. His journey around the world on Christmas Eve takes 24 hours and, with the number of households he has to visit, we can assume there isn’t much time for napping. From meeting children to monitoring his naughty and nice lists, there is rarely a silent night for St. Nick throughout December.
Aside from the lack of sleep, we must also consider the incredible number of mince pies Santa consumes, all, of course, washed down with a festive glass of sherry. This got us thinking – just how much of an effect does the Christmas period have on Santa’s health?
Check out our graphic below for a breakdown of Santa’s all-nighter, or read on for our in-depth workings and Santa’s full medical check-up.
Households in the World
So, how did we get to these numbers? To start with, we had to make some sense of the sheer amount of people Santa needs to visit on Christmas Eve. As of the 4th December 2019, the Worldometers’ World Population Clock stood at 7,748,126,539 people. We divided this by 3.359 – the average number of people per household, according to Wikipedia.
This left us with a grand total of 2,306,492,968 households across the world that Santa needs to pay a visit over the festive season.
Easy as Pie
2.3 billion households means 2.3 billion mince pies left out as a treat for Santa. An average Sainsbury’s mince pie weighs about 59.167g. Multiply that by the number of households and you’re left with a whopping 136,468 tons of mince pies left out on Christmas Eve.
Coming in at 230 calories per pie, Santa’s mince pie mountain would stack up a stomach-cramping 530,493,382,570 calories, which is 212,197,353 times the NHS daily recommended calorie intake of 2,500 per day for a male. This number of calories could sustain Santa for 580,965 years, yet he manages it all in one night. We hope there’s some stretch in that suit!
And what about Rudolph and the rest of the reindeer? With the average carrot weighing in at 61g, we calculated a huge 140,696 tons are left out for the reindeer to munch on throughout their journey. At least we don’t need to worry about their vision when flying overnight!
A Very ‘Merry’ Christmas
Santa is known for his love of a little tipple of sherry over the festive period but, if each household left him a glass, just how much alcohol would he consume?
A standard glass of sherry from Sainsbury's is 1.1 units of alcohol per 60ml glass. Overall, Santa could be drinking 138,389,578 litres of sherry, knocking back 2,537,142,264 units on Christmas Eve alone. This is a huge 181,224,447 times the NHS weekly recommended alcohol intake and the equivalent of 1,103,105,332 pints of Carling lager. One thing’s for sure, Santa will be nursing a sore head on Christmas morning!
Alcohol, too, comes with calories. With this amount of sherry Santa would be taking in 133,776,592,126 calories from drinking alone, which is 53,510,637 times the NHS daily recommended calorie intake and would be enough to sustain Santa for 146,504 years.
All in all, with mince pies and sherry combined, Santa has the potential to rack up an enormous 664,269,974,696 calorie intake during his trip. At 265,707,990 times the NHS daily recommended intake, in total this is enough to sustain Santa for 727,469 years. Perhaps we should all consider leaving a glass of water and a healthy snack instead this year?
It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Sleep Deprivation
He sees you when you’re sleeping – but when does Santa sleep? Planning, making, packing, wrapping and delivering presents to 2.3 billion households is busy work, and we know that Santa is working non-stop for at least 24 hours as he carries out his global trip. So, what would the effects of Santa’s lack of sleep have on his cognitive abilities?
A study from the US National Library of Medicine looked into the reaction times of subjects exposed to one night’s sleep deprivation and compared this to a baseline healthy figure. It was found that the mean choice reaction time of subjects exposed to sleep deprivation was reduced by 15.4%. We hope Santa’s plane-dodging or parking skills aren’t too badly affected!
Santa’s Doctor Assessment
From his hectic work schedule and lack of sleep through to his excessive alcohol consumption, we must admit – we’re worried about Santa’s health. To ensure he’s up to the job this year, we spoke to a Dr Deborah Lee from Dr Fox Online Pharmacy to get the low-down on the medical effects of Santa’s all-nighter.
Mr Klaus – the doctor will see you now…
What are the effects of Santa working for 24 hours straight?
After 24 hours of sleep deprivation, Santa would be expected to feel drowsy. Short term sleep loss affects our neuromuscular function, coordination and reaction times. Brain function becomes less sharp, with impaired judgements, and poor decision-making. Hand-eye coordination worsens and there is an increase in 'near miss' accidents. We find our memory of recent events is starting to fail.
Other effects of sleep deprivation are moodiness, irritability and being short-tempered - not the jolly Santa we know and love!
How would Santa’s excessive consumption of mince pies and alcohol affect him over the Christmas period?
It’s a sad fact that mince pies are notoriously unhealthy - high in saturated fat and sugar, and low in fibre. A 2016 Study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine reported that diets which are high fat, high in sugar and low in fibre are associated with reduced time asleep, less restorative sleep and more wakeful periods during the night. Santa would benefit from finding some healthier mince pie recipes!
Santa is also ingesting a lot of alcohol at this particular time of year. Binge drinkers tend to find they fall asleep more quickly, but as blood alcohol levels fall during the night, they experience more disordered sleep and have more periods of wakefulness. This also results in less REM (rapid eye movement sleep).
If this pattern is repeated, it can lead to daytime sleepiness. Sometimes people use alcohol erroneously to help them sleep, and then caffeine in the daytime to keep them awake. Caffeine helps inhibit sleep – so this can be a vicious cycle.
Santa would be strongly advised to try some non-alcoholic drinks as a Christmas alternative!
He should also – most definitely - not be drinking and driving!
How would the effects of his journey and alcohol consumption affect him the next day? Would there be any long-term effects on Santa’s health or sleep patterns?
While travelling, Santa is a prime candidate for unpleasant conditions including travel (motion) sickness and the after-effects of alcohol. It can take several days after the journey for the symptoms of these conditions to fully resolve.
Travel sickness happens because your body is aware you are moving – (Santa is whizzing across the night sky in his sleigh) - but your ears, which are involved with maintaining your balance, are getting mixed messages.
Poor Santa could find himself nauseated, vomiting, feeling cold, sweating and dribbling, with a headache, and feeling drowsy and exhausted. Lucky for Santa there is plenty of good advice and medication to help reduce the frequency and severity of motion sickness.
Misuse of alcohol is the 5th most common leading cause of premature death and disability worldwide. As Santa may well have been drinking in this fashion for over 1000 years, he has indeed been putting himself at great health risks. Alcohol damages cells and is a recognised carcinogen. The metabolism of alcohol leads to the production of glutaraldehyde, which is also toxic. Alcohol has a damaging effect on just about every organ in the body.
Alcohol does not cause a good night’s sleep. To the contrary, alcohol induces sleep disorders. Santa needs to take advice on strategies for reducing his alcohol intake this Christmas!
So, there we have it – from reduced reaction times to moodiness and increased chance of sleep disorders, all things are not merry and bright with Father Christmas. We’d recommend he perhaps lays off the sherry this year, and takes the remainder of the festive period to rest, recover, and catch up on some much-needed sleep.