With the new year, comes new resolutions, the most popular of which revolve around improving our health. That may mean hitting the reset button on January 1 for some, and for others, it’s all about boosting their wellbeing. While New Year’s Day hangovers certainly provide just the inspiration many social drinkers and their livers need to participate in Dry January, a month-long break from indulging in festive libations, experts say not drinking can help your mood, too.
To learn more about the specific effects from experts, we reached out to neuropsychologist, Dr. Hafeez and family physician, Dr. Caudle. As Dr. Hafeez tells Bustle, when you’re not drinking, physically, you’re able to maintain better sleep patterns, your skin is more clear, your organs are more hydrated, your immune system is stronger and your blood sugar and cholesterol levels are more stable. That’s reason enough to cut back on drinking, but the ways that your mentality is affected from a minimum of one month without alcohol is perhaps more surprising. And that’s mainly due to the fact that many of us are unable to see the ways in which drinking affects us. It’s easy to attribute the way we feel to other things, but at the root, a lot of how we feel after a night of drinking is very simply a result of, well, drinking. "In vino veritas" can be misleading — sometimes wine doesn’t show us the truth, it just makes us feel like crap.
As Dr. Caudle tells Bustle, "there are many benefits to Dry January and one of them includes getting better sleep, as alcohol can disrupt our sleep patterns." The correlation between sleep and mood is not always obvious, but according to Dr. Caudle, it’s strong. "How well we sleep can affect our mood and a good night’s sleep will likely help our mood. Alcohol is also notorious for causing mood disruptions, whether happy or sad, our moods can be more labile when drinking."
Even if you manage to get a good night’s sleep after a night of drinking, your sleep quality isn’t going to be high, and your energy levels the following day will still be affected. According to Dr. Hafeez, abstaining from alcohol will free up some energy and allow you to focus better during the day. You’re less likely to hit the snooze button or hit a midday slump when you don’t have alcohol in your blood. "You’ll be able to concentrate on tasks which also helps you stimulate the part of your brain where memory takes place. This keeps us sharp as we age," Dr. Hafeez adds, stressing the long-term value in not drinking even for a month.
But perhaps one of the most surprising ways in which abstaining from alcohol affects your mood is an observation from Dr. Hafeez, in which she brings the focus to what opportunities arise when we know a drink is out of the question. "Often when we make a major change to our lives like choosing to lay off alcohol for a month our crew of cohorts changes," Dr. Hafeez says. "This frees up time for you to focus on you. Self-care is important and often neglected when going out to socialize over drinks is the norm," she goes on to say that our interests will shift toward activities that nurture us like exercise, meditation, reading, learning, and which can lead to making new friendships. Instead of having a few glasses of wine after dinner and falling asleep on the couch, we might opt to read for a few hours, take a restorative yoga class or spend sometime exploring a new hobby. These options enrich our lives, stimulate our minds, making Dry January less about avoiding alcohol and more about adding richer and more rewarding habits and behaviors to our lives.
Particularly at a time in which the winter blues are widespread, January is a great month to to experiment with cutting back on alcohol — whether you’re suffering from noticeable moods changes or not. The truth is, according to experts, alcohol, even when consumed in responsible moderation, has negative effects on our bodies and minds. So if you’re making your health a top priority in the new year, you might want to consider participating in Dry January so that you have the support of others to help you through it. Though of course any time is a good time to cut back on behaviors that endanger your health, having a few buds who are swapping happy hours for tea times will certainly be helpful.
Neuropsychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez
Family Physician Dr. Jen Caudle
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