After a holiday season spent indulging and imbibing many social drinkers welcome the tradition of Dry or Damp January, where you abstain from or cut back on alcohol for a full month as a way of resetting your relationship with it in the new year.
Many who try the 31-day challenge find it becomes easier with time to adopt a low or no-alcohol lifestyle as a result. Whether you’re looking to cut back on the booze to avoid hangovers, save money, or improve your health overall, there are likely some added benefits you haven’t considered that might just make you consider giving it up for good.
Here are some of the major benefits of cutting out alcohol, according to experts.
1. Your sleep may improve
It might come as a shock to those who look forward to a night cap as a way to drift to sleep, but alcohol acts more like a tranquilizer, knocking you out but not giving you true sleep.
In fact, studies show that even a low amount of alcohol—less than one drink for women and less than two for men—can negatively impact sleep quality.
“There are four stages of sleep and stages 3 and 4 are most important,” says Louisa Nicola, a neurophysiologist and advisor with Momentous where she uses science-backed strategies to help athletes and investors reach peak performance.
Nicola says it’s during the third stage of sleep, known as deep sleep, that you release growth hormones and testosterone and activate the glymphatic system which is the brain’s waste clearance system.
“When you drink alcohol, you are sedating yourself. So you are blocking these stages of sleep,” Nicola says.
2. You’ll perform better mentally
With improved sleep, comes improved mood, focus and energy. When you block REM sleep, stage four sleep, your emotions can be disrupted.
“You’re going to have a short fuse, you’re going to be more angry, you’re going to be more sad and the way you respond to people is going to be less emotionally intelligent,” Nicola adds.
Long term, excessive drinking also raises the odds of developing dementia.
“(Alcohol) is going in and obliterating the brain cells,” Nicola says.
This kind of deterioration is responsible for disease like Alzheimer’s, which we can lower the risk for when we cut down on heavy drinking.
3. You’ll reduce your risk of cancer and other diseases
Heavy drinking not only increases your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, it also raises your risk of cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But even one drink a day, considered moderate drinking, increases your risk for certain types of cancer.
What’s more, alcohol contributes to more than 200 diseases, including in the liver, pancreas, and heart.
4. You may improve your fertility
Regular heavy drinking can affect both male and female fertility: In men, excessive alcohol can lower testosterone levels, cause impotence, and affect sperm production. In women, it can affect the menstrual cycle, ovulation, and hormone levels.
Some studies indicate that fertility can recover in men and women by abstaining from alcohol for three months.
5. You might lose extra weight
Many report a drop in weight after removing the empty calories consumed when drinking. Alcohol, like other foods and drinks that are high in sugar, can not only add unwanted pounds, but may also contribute to the accumulation of belly fat, which is associated with heart disease and diabetes.
“Forty percent of our users see weight loss; they lose 5 to 10 pounds just because of cutting back the first three months,” says Vedant Pradeep, cofounder and CEO of Reframe, an alcohol reduction app, created in partnership with Emory and Harvard University.
6. Your mental health could improve
Many who consume alcohol do so to cope with stress, anxiety and depression, but experts say this is counterintuitive and that drinking can increase these symptoms.
“Alcohol is used to help or try to regulate the nervous system when it’s used to soothe anxiety and depression, but we’re learning there are other ways to soothe our nervous system,” says Stacy Thiry, a licensed therapist with Grow Therapy who specializes in addiction/substance abuse.
When we stop drinking, we remove the substance responsible for many of our mood cycles. As a result, Thiry says many report improved relationships with family members, less risk taking behavior, better energy and health, and the ability to work out.
You might not think consuming alcohol is affecting your personal relationships or daily life until you take a harder look, Thiry says.