The roots of Dry January can be traced much further back than you may expect and when you find out why it makes sense because the benefits of going without booze for a month turn out to be quite wide ranging and could even have helped win a war!
Whilst most believe that Dry January came about in the early 2010’s when a lady intending to train for a marathon kick-started her training by announcing that she would go without booze for a month the roots of the idea can be traced back to wartime Finland. In 1942 the Finnish army decided that they’d have a strategic advantage over their vodka-guzzling enemies, the Soviet Union, by going sober at the start of the new year.
If the benefits of going without alcohol are used as a strategic advantage in wartime you may wonder just how impressive the results of going sober for a month might be to your own health, mental clarity and productivity. It makes sense to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink, especially if you’ve found the quantity slowly increasing of late. In fact, having a complete break can allow your body and mind to experience all sorts of benefits. Some of the benefits that have been researched and proven to exist after just one month without alcohol include:
Improved Digestion – alcohol can cause gastrointestinal inflammation and slow down stomach emptying time. By eliminating alcohol for a month you allow the gastrointestinal tract to operate with reduced inflammation and faster, more efficient digestion.
Elevated Mood – When we drink, it changes our brain chemicals. Serotonin (the feel-good hormone) goes down, and gamma-Aminobutyric acid goes up, which has a sedative effect. By eliminating alcohol we allow the production of these hormones to normalise and could experience an uplift in our mood and outlook.
Better Control of Blood Sugar Levels – Blood sugar levels are known to fluctuate more in response to alcohol consumption, not just because most alcoholic drinks are served with something containing sugar but because the alcohol itself acts as a stimulant which causes blood sugar fluctuations. A month without will give your body the chance to achieve more of a balanced blood sugar level and in turn you could find yourself craving less sugary foods and drinks.
Lower Cholesterol – drinking alcohol raises the triglycerides and cholesterol in your blood. You may find that levels of both drop after a month of abstinence from drinking alcohol.
Lower Liver Fats – When alcohol is metabolised it results in overproduction of fat in the liver. Levels of liver fat are found to be lower after a month of alcohol-free living.
Improved Sleep – Even though it helps us fall asleep, it doesn’t help us stay asleep. As it turns out, alcohol negatively affects your sleep cycle. As it is metabolised your sleep becomes interrupted leaving you feeling unfulfilled by the sleep you do get. By eliminating alcohol you should find your sleep improves and you feel more refreshed by morning.
Younger Looking Skin – alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it’s going to dry out everything including your skin, increasing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and making you look older. After a month without alcohol you may well find you look younger. Take a photo at the end of January and compare it with one taken at Christmas time. Do you look younger?
The benefits of going without alcohol at least for a month are clear but how can we make the most of this period? Wouldn’t it be even better if we took Dry January as an opportunity to feel really really good! In order to do so it is important to think about the areas of health that are already improved by going “dry”. Then, from a nutritional perspective these can be supported.
Try some probiotic foods in your diet. The easiest to come by are miso soup which you can buy in a jar or sachets and simply add hot (but not boiling) water to, yogurt (best bought plain) but even better if served with raw honey (also a probiotic food) and sauerkraut which you can now buy in supermarkets and goes really well with cold meats or alongside cheese.
Maintain your levels of hydration. Whilst alcohol free you may initially find your body gets particularly thirsty, at least in the initial stages as you adjust to this new way. Beyond the initial stages though it is equally important to keep well hydrated. Try infusing water with fresh ginger, lemon, cucumber, mint, kiwi, orange slices or basil or any combination of these that takes your fancy. Try herbal teas too. There is a great range on the market now. Be careful not to rely too heavily on coffee, tea or hot chocolate as these contain caffeine and caffeine is another diuretic which could leave you more dehydrated than rehydrated.
Practice a regular sleep routine at bedtime. This may include consuming a tea that could help relax you. Vervain, valerian and chamomile would be my recommendations. Also make sure you come off any blue-light technology e.g. smart phones, laptops, TV’s at least an hour before bedtime. Keeping the lighting low in the evenings, especially whilst cleaning your teeth at night, can help too.
Make sure you are physically tired and not just mentally tired at bedtime. This means getting sufficient movement into your day. You don’t need to go for a marathon run but some physical activity throughout the day will ensure you are tired and not wired at the end of the day. It could be walking, yoga, cycling or perhaps even a gentle jog.
So you can see that not only are there some great advantages to going dry this January but there are a few extra ways in which you can make the most of this time to capitalise on the improvements and the health benefits offered by Dry January even further.