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Holiday happy hours, after-work drinks, specialty cocktails mixed at New Year’s Eve parties – from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, the holiday season is filled with boozy beverages. And after weeks of alcoholic sips and treats, you’re probably due for a break. Dry January is the perfect way to kick off the new year and take a step back from all that alcohol for a bit.
If you’ve never tried Dry January before, there’s more reason than ever before to give it a go this year. The past few years have been seriously stressful and, if you’re anything like the population at large, your drinking likely increased. According to recent reports, nearly 1 in 5 Americans say they’ve been drinking heavily in the past 30 days – and that was before the holidays. Overall, it’s estimated that alcohol consumption has increased by about 14 percent since 2020.
That’s where Dry January comes in. After indulging in plenty of booze throughout the holidays (and all of the months prior), it’s an opportunity to take a step back and reset by kicking off the new year without any alcohol. Dry January might be part of a larger resolution to drink less or a way to build booze-free, health-forward habits. No matter why you might be participating, it can be beneficial for your health and wellness in many ways.
And if you’re wondering whether Dry January is worth trying, these 5 health benefits will definitely convince you.
1. You’ll sleep better and have more energy
Sure, alcohol might make you think you’re sleeping well. After having a few drinks, your head likely hits the pillow pretty hard at night. But unfortunately, drinking won’t keep you asleep – it’s more often what’s keeping you awake into the wee hours of the morning.
Alcohol typically leads to restless sleep and more frequent wake-ups, wrecking your ability to get a good night of shut-eye. When you drink, research suggests, you’re interfering with your body’s natural adenosine processing. Adenosine is a chemical that promotes sleepiness and helps you stay asleep without waking too early. Plus, as your body processes alcohol, it suppresses REM sleep – the deepest, most restful stage.
So, when you give up booze during Dry January, you’re very likely to experience a noticeable benefit: improved sleep. You’ll be better able to fall asleep and stay asleep, and you’ll likely wake with more energy (and no hangovers!). A 2016 Health Psychology survey of individuals who participated in Dry January found that 62 percent reported better sleep and increased energy.
2. You may lose weight
It’s well-known that drinking frequently can hinder your weight loss efforts. Alcohol is nothing but empty calories, and it’s often loaded with carbs. And you won’t find any kind of nutritional info on your can of beer or bottle of wine – but that doesn’t mean the calories don’t count.
As Vox explains, a single beer can have anywhere from 110 to 330 calories, while most 6-ounce glasses of wine offer 150 calories. Mixed drinks are the worst offenders, serving up anywhere from 180 calories in a Moscow Mule to 380 calories in frozen cocktails. Cutting out these calorie-rich beverages can help you reduce your overall intake, a key detail in any effort to lose weight. As the 2016 Health Psychology survey found, approximately half of the participants lost weight during Dry January.
But it’s not just the empty calories that make eliminating booze beneficial for weight loss. As one research study found, there’s a positive correlation between drinking and gaining weight, regardless of what you’re drinking. The food choices you make while drinking can also thwart even the best diets. Alcohol tends to lead to unhealthy food decisions, causing you to “indulge” more than you intended to.
Dry January gives you the opportunity to cut out the extra calories and the potential unhealthy food decisions. With a clear, sober mind you’ll make smarter choices – and you won’t be sipping on unexpected extra calories.
3. Your mental health can improve
You know alcohol makes you feel worse physically, especially when you’ve overindulged and wake up with a hangover. But sipping too many cocktails can also mess with your mental health.
While it might seem like enjoying a glass of wine after a long, hard day is relaxing, it can have a negative effect on your mental health over the long term. Alcohol is a depressant, and its seemingly soothing effects often last only a short time – and they’re quickly followed by increased anxiety and depression symptoms. While alcohol itself doesn’t necessarily cause mental health issues, research suggests that it can result in psychological distress and overall poor mental health. More recently, a 2021 study found a potential association between daily alcohol use and an increased risk for depression.
Opting into sobriety for Dry January can put all of these potential mental health harms on hold. Eliminating alcohol may help you see a more stable and positive mood; you may also see a potential reduction in symptoms for conditions like anxiety. Overall, a month of mocktails instead of cocktails can also help you address potential underlying issues too. You’ll think more clearly and be better able to notice changes to your mental health and wellness.
And, if that doesn’t have you convinced, research suggests giving up drinking is great for mental health too. A 2019 study suggested that adults who gave up drinking experienced positive changes in their mental health and quality of life.
4. You can strengthen your immune system
Worried about catching a cold or getting sick with a seasonal virus? Well, you’re going to want to join Dry January! Drinking alcohol can hinder your immune system and its normal functions, leaving you more exposed to potential illness without even realizing it.
According to a 2015 study, individuals who participate in binge drinking lower their immune systems’ defenses. Drinking 4 or more drinks for women or 5 or more drinks for men offers a brief period of increase immune activity – but that’s followed by a slowdown that lasts 5 hours or more. That means all of those boozy bevvies are reducing your immune system’s effectiveness.
And excessive alcohol consumption in any form is also bad for natural immunity. According to a 2007 review, overdoing it on the alcohol can potentially suppress your immune system and lead to a higher risk for infectious disease.
All you have to do to keep your immune system strong is skip the cocktails. Dry January, which falls in the middle of winter, is the perfect time to give your immunity a boost by decreasing your drinking when colds, flus and infections of all kinds are running rampant.
5. You can lengthen your lifespan and lower your risk for certain diseases
Limiting your alcohol intake – and eliminating it altogether during Dry January – can have a surprisingly significant benefit on your health now and for years to come.
Alcohol can increase your risk for cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver and colon according to the CDC. It can also heighten the odds of developing breast cancer in women, as well as increase the risk of brain and heart damage. Plus, you can’t overlook two of the most common diseases caused by alcohol: cirrhosis and fatty liver disease.
But it’s not just dangerous in terms of diseases. Drinking alcohol, and specifically drinking 5 drinks or more per week, has been found to shorten a person’s lifespan by five years on average.
In combination with an overall healthy lifestyle, cutting back on drinking can have a great impact on your risk for these diseases and other ailments. And whether you’re opting in to Dry January for its health benefits, going completely sober or planning to keep your drinking low beyond the next month, reducing your overall alcohol intake can potentially extend your lifespan for the future. .
Learn more about healthy habits that can keep your feeling great and feeding your body well in January and beyond: