It’s no secret that consuming alcohol is fundamentally not healthy. We’ve all heard the benefits of not drinking–things like better concentration, more energy, improved moods, greater long-term cardiovascular health, etc. But what actually happens to your body if you quit drinking for a month?
Whether it’s Sober October, Dry January, or something else entirely, here are eight positive changes you’ll see from giving up alcohol, even if it’s just for a short period of time (like 31 days).
Many people mistakenly assume that because alcohol is a sedative, it actually helps them sleep. What they don’t realize, however, is that it completely destroys the quality of their sleep.
“Sleep is an incredibly active process,” states WHOOP Director of Analytics Emily Capodilupo in our recent podcast, Alcohol’s Effect on Sleep, Recovery and Performance. “Our bodies are working really, really hard when we sleep, and if you have alcohol in your system, none of those very active processes can happen.”
Shortly after falling asleep your body generally enters a period of slow wave sleep (SWS, also known as deep sleep), which is the physically restorative stage of sleep. After that, a normal cycle includes a period of REM sleep, the mentally restorative stage.
However, when your body is sedated and working to process alcohol in your system (increasing heart rate), you miss out on the benefits of these stages and just get a lot of light sleep instead. So even if you sleep for a long time after drinking, you don’t wake up feeling rested and recovered.
Another thing many people don’t realize is that they don’t get stronger and fitter while working out. Exercise itself actually causes micro tears in your muscles and breaks them down. Fitness gains happen afterwards, when your body repairs itself during sleep. In fact, 95% of human growth hormone is produced during slow-wave sleep. But as stated above, alcohol in your system prevents SWS from happening.
What does this mean? If you drink at night before going to bed, you’re basically rendering any workouts you did that day useless.
Each morning, WHOOP members have the option to log alcohol consumption from the previous day in the Journal feature. When this question is answered “yes,” on average their resting heart rates tracked during sleep are 8 beats per minute higher (worse) than their baselines, while their HRV is 22 milliseconds lower (also worse). Check out the resting heart rate data (and the effects of alcohol on it) shared by one of our members below:
For example: the left is a week with no alcohol consumption, and the right is a week with a few ? on Friday. The spike is so noticeable! Note, these were intense weeks at school so my stress levels and caffeine consumption also contributed to elevated RHR levels overall. @whoop pic.twitter.com/fMIBuChgGQ
— Chenoa (@chenoa_marie) October 8, 2019
Studies show that alcohol causes your stomach to produce greater amounts of gastric acid. This can irritate your digestive system, causing stomach pain, bloating, gas and other annoyances. When your body is alcohol free, it digests food in a more consistent and comfortable manner.
It’s well documented that excessive alcohol consumption is a common risk factor for obesity. However, drinking even small amounts of alcohol can make it very difficult for you to lose weight. No matter what type of alcoholic beverage you consume, the alcohol itself contains 7 calories per gram, almost double what most carbohydrates and proteins have (4 calories per gram).
Additionally, calories from alcohol are often referred to as “empty calories” because they can not be converted to glycogen and used as energy–your body can’t do anything with them.
Alcohol dehydrates you, it’s a simple fact. One of the byproducts of this is a disruption of blood flow that lessons the amount of oxygen getting to your skin. This makes your skin dry and reduces its elasticity, leading to pigmented spots and wrinkles. If you cut out alcohol and properly hydrate instead, it’ll do wonders for your skin.
For most people, alcohol consumption tends to coincide with other less-than-stellar choices when it comes to their overall well being. A night out binge drinking often involves poor hydration, unhealthy foods and staying up later than normal, which causes a disruption in sleep consistency and regular bedtime routines.
There’s also the notion of addition by subtraction–if you’re not drinking, whatever else you’re doing instead is probably better for your body (and immune system). Whether it’s going to bed earlier, getting in some extra exercise, or even just kicking back on the couch and reading a book, it’s a healthier experience than drinking.
If you’re participating in an alcohol-free month this year, you’ll likely notice fairly quickly that the benefits of not drinking are reflected in your WHOOP data. Among other things, you’ll see higher HRV, lower resting heart rates, fewer disturbances in your sleep, more time spent in the restorative stages of sleep, better recoveries, and an ability to take on greater amounts of strain.
Plus, based on all these positive effects from taking a break from alcohol, research indicates there’s a very good chance you’ll be motivated by the results and continue to drink less in the future.