Quitting alcohol for Dry January can bring many benefits, such as improved sleep, skin, and mood. Cutting out alcohol, even temporarily, has invisible benefits, too, like to your liver and heart. But I’ve also discovered some surprising changes, including hunger and vivid dreams.
Quitting alcohol for Dry January
I tucked into bed on January 1 with a belly full of New Year’s Eve leftovers and alcohol-free beer. I waited — and waited — for the blissful sleep so treasured by alcohol abstainers to descend.
It didn’t come until 2 or 3 in the morning after I’d tossed, turned, gotten up to pee countless times, and relocated to the couch for a fresh start.
If you’re like me, a near-daily drinker trying Dry January for the first time, you may have to pass through sleep trouble before arriving at babylike slumber.
That’s because alcohol is a depressant that the body is used to relying on to go to sleep, said Katie Witkiewitz, a psychologist at the University of New Mexico’s Center on Alcohol, Substance Use, and Addictions. Take it away, and your body and mind may need to relearn how to drift off on their own.
The good news in those early days: “Even if you’re having a hard time falling asleep, you are probably sleeping better,” Witkiewitz said.
Depending on how much you drank before, your sleep may bounce back within days to weeks. For me, it took a couple nights before I awoke before my alarm and hit the pool feeling like Michael Phelps.
Just how restorative sleep can be tends to surprise people most, Witkiewitz said. “We don’t realize how much alcohol impacts sleep and energy in the long run,” she said.
Indeed, while a normal sleep cycle can include up to six or seven REM cycles — the restorative phase of sleep — after drinking, you may only get one or two, said William Porter, the author of “Alcohol Explained.”
If you’ve been a longtime heavy drinker, your body also needs that extra energy to help heal all the organs that booze has been damaging, emphasize the coaches at The Alcohol Experiment, the 30-day program I’m following.
They recommend drinking lots of water and filling up on protein to support the process.
Your body may crave sweets, in part thanks to all the sugar in alcohol — especially if your go-to drinks included wine and cocktails.
Reaching for the cookies and ice cream may also feel comforting in the absence of your old crutch, Witkiewitz said.
“Anytime people change a behavior, our natural gut reaction — literally — is to experience more hunger,” she said. “There’s the boredom factor and the reward factor.” Witkiewitz added, “And food is a very accessible, natural reward.”
Fortunately, she said, the intensity of the cravings shouldn’t last. “The body is really miraculous in coming into a homeostatic state,” she said. “Eventually, people feel more cravings for healthier foods and have more energy.”
Meanwhile, you can curb your cravings by brushing your teeth; drinking a nonalcoholic beverage, such as peppermint tea; or grabbing some fruit, recommended AlcoholChange.org, the UK organization credited with launching the Dry January movement in 2013.
Several people in my private Facebook group for The Alcohol Experiment have reported experiencing all the feels — from despair to joy — early this month. That’s expected, especially for former heavy drinkers, since alcohol numbs emotions and Dry January puts them on full display.
Keep reading about the benefits of quitting alcohol for Dry January at www.insider.com