Doing Dry January? Here's How It Might Affect Your Sleep
There are many reasons to give Dry Jan a go: Maybe you're intrigued by its potential skin-clearing, mood-boosting benefits, looking to save some money, or just want to see how your body reacts to the break from booze. If you're in it for better, deeper sleep in the new year, there are some things you should know.
The link between alcohol and sleep quality.
Alcohol—especially when consumed within a few hours of bedtime—can dampen sleep quality due to the way it's processed in the body.
"The problem is that as alcohol metabolizes through your body, it can suppress the REM sleep, rapid-eye-movement sleep, which is the part of sleep where dreams mostly occur. It's also really important for things like memory consolidation, learning, and emotional processing," Wendy M. Troxel, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and certified behavioral sleep medicine specialist, explains to mbg.
She adds that since alcohol is a diuretic, drinking it before bed can make you need to get up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night—leading to what's known as "sleep fragmentation," or disrupted sleep. All these factors can contribute to that groggy, tired, dreamless feeling that sometimes comes after a night of drinking, even in moderation.
Therefore, if all else stays the same, avoiding alcohol for a month should lead to improvements in overall sleep quality. And indeed, there is research to show that the majority of moderate drinkers tend to report deeper sleep and more energy after a go-round with Dry January.
But this year, in particular, the impact of giving up booze might not be so cut and dried.
Why it's important to replace drinking with another wind-down activity.
Researchers have noticed a few interesting nightly habit changes in the general population since COVID began: For starters, many people are pushing back their sleep schedules—they're going to bed later and waking up later. At the same time, alcohol consumption has also increased during the pandemic. Drinking a nightcap, it seems, has become an increasingly common way for folks to fill those extra pre-bed hours and unwind after stressful days.
If you are someone who has gotten into the routine of sipping a glass or two before bed to relax, you might find that it's actually harder to fall asleep during Dry January. That's because once alcohol becomes synonymous with resting, the brain is less inclined to slow down without it, causing repetitive thoughts and worries to stick around come bedtime.
The deep and restorative sleep you've always dreamt about*
"Replacing it with some other calming ritual is really critical here," Troxel says. "Maybe, during Dry January, you try a new routine, like taking a bath before bedtime, putting away your phone—finding new strategies to replace that calming ritual of having a glass of wine."
Other pre-bed activities could include following a guided meditation, doing breathing exercises, reading a book, trying a soothing supplement like mbg's magnesium+, drinking a cold, alcohol-free beverage, or enjoying a hot cup of tea.*
"Disconnecting and unwinding: That's really the benefit that the glass of wine was giving you, but these are not going to have the consequences for your sleep quality," Troxel explains.
The bottom line.
During a difficult year, many leaned on alcohol to relax and unwind before bed, and now might find it more difficult to fall asleep without it. If you are a moderate drinker who is having trouble quieting the mind before bed during Dry January, try experimenting with other practices that tell your body it's time to start relaxing. Then, at the end of the month, you could walk away with a renewed sense of energy—and a fresh favorite ritual on your hands.