With the booming production of nonalcoholic wine, beer and gin, a generation of ‘sober-curious’ teetotal trailblazers and research showing that even small amounts of alcohol can have health consequences, Dry January is more popular than ever.
So if this year’s merriment has left you feeling more rough than refreshed, then perhaps it’s time you, too, try Dry January? After all, research has shown that people who take a month off drinking will keep their newfound habits going in some form. In fact, one study found that people who took part in Dry January were still drinking less in August.
What are the benefits of Dry January?
But what are the benefits of swerving the sauce for a full 31 days? And how should you structure your month, so that it works for you?
We’ll get to that. But, first off, we’ve tapped up the experts – GP Richard Spence and personal trainer Matt Kendrick – for their crib sheet on how ‘livin’ la vida’ sober affects your body, week by week.
Dry January: Week One benefits
1. Your sleep might change
While alcohol might help some people get to sleep, for most, it reduces how long they sleep for, as well as sleep quality, thus having a negative effect on energy levels. The reason is that if you drink before you go to sleep your body experiences ‘micro-awakenings’ during the night.
You won’t realise they’re happening, but they do affect your deep sleep. However, while poor for your pillow time, you’re used to them. You need to get used to sleeping sober without these.
If you drank more days than not in December for the first week, you may notice that your sleeping pattern changes slightly or you struggle with insomnia, so you may be tired, but the quality of sleep you get is set to improve.
2. Your fitness levels should go up
Alcohol is a diuretic – meaning that your kidneys produce more urine –which can lead to dehydration. Think about your skin after a night getting sozzled: dry, dull and lifeless? Point proved.
If you keep on drinking lots of water when you exercise, without alcohol in your system your hydration levels will be far easier to maintain – resulting in improved blood flow which is essential for circulating nutrients and oxygen to your muscles.
Dry January: Weeks two to three benefits
By this point, you should be starting to feel the bigger positives of passing on the prosecco. With no alcohol in your system for a fortnight, you may notice that your motivation levels are higher due to your new-found willpower, and you may even have started to lose a bit of weight.
3. You’ll experience increased deep sleep
‘When you drink alcohol before bed you may fall into deep sleep quicker,’ confirms ‘This is why some people find drinking alcohol helps them drop off to sleep. But as the night goes on you spend less time in this deep sleep and more time than usual in the less restful, Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep.’
Alcohol can exacerbate certain sleep conditions, like snoring, and without it, you should be getting a better quality of sleep – making you more energetic and active.
4. You’ll want to exercise more
Whether you used to drink more at the weekend or not, with this newfound energy you are now more likely to make the most of your Saturdays and Sundays, swapping a long lie-in for a long walk or gym session.
5. You should be feeling better, mentally
The problem is, while a glass of Pinotage or four might give you a sense of relaxation instantly, as you know, the next morning can feel plagued by feelings of anxiety.
‘Post-drinking hangovers can be particularly difficult, with the usual headache and nausea being accompanied by feelings of depression and/or anxiety,’ according to the charity Alcohol Change.
‘Overuse of alcohol can contribute to the worsening of symptoms of many mental health problems. In particular, it can lead to low mood and anxiety.’ Meaning? That when you dry out, you could well feel less easily shaken, or that your moods are more steady.
6. Your skin should look healthier
Drinking alcohol can leave the skin looking tired and puffy, and dryness is a common side effect.
With no alcohol in your system and a good amount of exercise, by now you should be noticing that any redness or blotchiness has started to fade and that your complexion is clearer and you have healthy, glowing skin.
The longer-term benefits of giving up booze
In one month of giving up alcohol, it’s likely that you will have started to feel calmer, tone up, reduce liver fat, reduce cholesterol, reduce blood sugar and gain a clearer complexion – all in a relatively short space of time.
7. Your liver should be happy
Although the liver has great regenerative powers, this is not limitless. It will be very grateful for the downtime. As Dr Spence states: ‘As a GP it is always obvious to me if someone has stopped drinking.’
Furthermore, a study discovered that individuals who stopped drinking alcohol reduced their liver fat fell on average by 15 % and by almost 20% in some individuals. This is good news for helping to future-proof your body against liver damage.
8. Your focus will increase
With your sleep cycle back in balance, your body’s ability to store glycogen will improve and this crucial energy source will provide you with greater endurance, and make you feel more alert.
9. You’ll find it easier to hit your goals
Now that alcohol’s a distant memory, your improved training regime will be in full swing, and it should be much easier than before to keep on track with any fitness goals that you have set.
Also, you can expect big improvements in both metabolism and muscle recovery, as your endurance and body’s ability to convert carbohydrates to usable energy improves.
10. Your skin might glow
After an alcohol-free month, your body is able to absorb more vitamin A, increasing cell turnover and leaving your skin looking considerably healthier and younger. You will also see a returned brightness to your eyes.
3 steps to making Dry January work for you
1. If you’re trying to be healthy, don’t choose fizzy drinks
Not sure what to choose as your evening tipple, now that wine is off the menu? Don’t fall into the trap of opting for a fizzy drink.
‘It might seem like a ‘healthier’ option to opt for a fizzy drink or fruit juice as an alternative to alcohol, but many of these can be surprisingly high in sugars,’ says nutritionist Vicky Pennington.
What to do, instead
‘A better solution to avoid drinks high in sugar would be to spice up sparkling water with a squeeze of fresh lime or other alternatives such as mint or fresh strawberries. If you are opting for a fruit juice then ensure you limit this to just 150ml a day.’
READ MORE: These 13 Simple Mocktails Are So Good, You’ll Make Them Long After Dry January
2. Don’t let yourself feel out of the loop
If none of your friends or family are doing Dry January, you might start feeling a bit left out when you’re the only one who arrives at virtual book club without a crisp dry white in hand.
What to do, instead
Mix up a tasty alcohol-free drink to take to your distance socialising events – tonic water over ice with a grapefruit garnish or an ice-cold kombucha are both good shouts. If you are pining for the taste of alcohol, there are abundant brilliant alcohol-free drinks out there, now, from gin alternative Seedlip to no-booze beer.
READ MORE: Make These 4 Low-Calorie Cocktails If You’re Watching Your Weight
3. Try not to go off the rails, come February
So you’ve made it through 31 days of sobriety and there’s only one thing for it: a nice cold glass of Sauvignon. But before you head straight for the nearest pub: ‘The problem with things like Dry January is that it can feel a bit all or nothing. By depriving yourself for a whole month you might just end up with you binge drinking when February comes around which can lead to various health problems and make Dry January feel like a bit of a waste of time,’ says Pennington.
What to do, instead
‘If you do enjoy a drink just make sure you enjoy it in moderation. It will be better for you to just drink sensibly throughout the year and have a few dry days each week.’
How to do Dry January, if you’re worried about people’s reactions
The thing is, though – how tactfully withdraw from social wines and chats if that’s a big chunk of your social life and you don’t want to be tempted by the sight of everyone else sipping?
If you need some help – post-Christmas, or any time you fancy going sober – then check out this advice.
Taken from author Annie Grace’s book available now, which advocates for trialling 30 days off of swerving the sauce, for the health, financial and emotional benefits, it digs into navigating the minefield of explaining yourself to your friends.
1. Don’t preach
‘Nobody wants to hear all your research into the dangers of alcohol. They already know most of it, trust me. And at this point, they don’t want to be harassed about it. I became an anti-alcohol evangelist at first, and people pitied my husband for having to put up with me.
‘If people ask you about the experiment, give them a brief summary to answer their questions. Staying low-key will do more good than making them feel like you’re judging them. If they want to make a change with their own drinking, they’re already judging themselves.’
2. Be a positive example
‘Show your friends that you can have just as much fun without drinking (and without talking about it all the time). Let them see for themselves that you simply don’t want to drink right now, and that’s okay. Again, your friends might feel that by not drinking, you are judging their behaviour.
‘Even though this isn’t true, they may still think it. So don’t isolate them. Be as friendly as ever. Let them know you are doing this for you, and don’t try to force the idea on them.’
3. Be creative
‘You don’t have to tell anyone you’re not drinking for 31 days. If you’re worried about how your friends will react, don’t say anything. It’s a personal decision, so keep it to yourself for now. There are lots of ways to explain why you might not be drinking on a particular evening. Here are some of my favourites from our community:
- “I overdid it last night, so I’m taking the night off.”
- “I’m trying to cut back.”
- “I’m doing an alcohol-free challenge.”
- “I don’t feel like it tonight.”
- “I have an important meeting tomorrow, so I want to keep a clear head.”
‘If you do decide to continue this 30-day experiment for 60 days, 90 days, or indefinitely, you will eventually want to tell your friends what’s going on. And chances are that many of them won’t get it. They won’t understand. But that doesn’t mean they will stop being friends with you.
‘It can take time, but eventually, most of them will accept your decision. Keep it all about you, not them. This is a change you’ve made for yourself. Make sure they know you aren’t going to impose your new beliefs on them. Here are some of the phrases I’ve used:
- “I realised I’m happier when I’m not drinking.”
- “I’m on a health kick, and giving up booze is part of it.”
- “I decided alcohol was no longer doing me any favours.”
- “These days I feel better when I don’t drink.”
- “I was no longer having fun with alcohol.”
‘Also be aware that your own attitude can affect how others in your group treat you. Notice if you’re feeling smug or judging your friends for their alcohol consumption. Examine your own treatment of nondrinkers in the past.
‘Do you have some of the same assumptions that you’re afraid people will place on you? Also, notice the actual reactions you receive from your friends. Your fears may be completely unfounded, after all. Your decision not to drink may be a total nonissue.
‘Mindful observation is the key to deciding this belief. Can you have as much (or more) fun and fit in with your friends without alcohol? The answer for me is absolutely yes! I’m betting you’ll come to the same conclusion.
‘But don’t take my word for it. Test it out yourself.’
This article by Alice Barraclough was originally published on Women’s Health UK.