I’m Halfway Through Dry January, Here’s What I’ve Experienced So Far
Can dry January help me improve my sleep, health, and overall relationship with alcohol? I wanted to find out.
For many of us, the start of a new year is a time to kick old habits and pick up healthy new ones. To start 2024, I decided to tackle Dry January. While I already have a habit of not drinking during the week, weekends are often a different story. I find that socializing, dinners out and wanting to relax after a long week often leads to drinking more than I intend to.
My main reason for wanting to be “dry” in January is to see if it improves my sleep. This is a struggle I’ve had for several years. As a registered dietitian, I know that sleep impacts hormones, raising cortisol and throwing off blood sugar. I believe that alcohol could be the reason for my frequent 3 a.m. wake-ups.
Taking a month-long break from drinking seemed like a reasonable way to evaluate if alcohol is the cause. Here’s what I’ve learned so far!
What is Dry January?
Dry January is simply not drinking for the month of January. Some people use this month as a reset period after overdoing it during the holidays. Others are “sober curious.” Dry January can be a way to determine if they want to make it a lifestyle beyond the first month.
Many of us are looking to have healthier habits in the new year. Cutting back on alcohol is a great way to improve your health, get better sleep, lose weight and even save money.
My Experience with Dry January
I’m two weeks into Dry January and staying strong with my goals. This is what I’ve discovered, day by day:
The few days of the year it was fairly easy to abstain after a champagne-fueled New Year’s Eve party. I didn’t even think about drinking as the year began to ramp up.
I attended a book club meeting and the host wanted to make a “warm boozy drink” that everyone could enjoy. I spoke up and requested an alcohol-free version for those of us doing Dry January. Turns out I wasn’t the only one who was looking for that option. The host ended up serving hot chocolate with lots of toppings. I enjoyed my cocoa and the inspirational conversation without the booze!
This is when things became more challenging, as there always seems to be an opportunity to drink on weekends. I had tickets to a monster truck show, and there’s nothing I love more than beer and monster trucks. I asked my husband to get me a diet cola and was surprised that the rest of our group also chose nonalcoholic drinks to enjoy during the show. I started a trend!
After the show, we went out to eat as a family. This was the hardest time so far because typically my husband and I like to enjoy a few drinks at dinner. Luckily, The Cheesecake Factory has quite a tasty selection of mocktails, which was enough to take the edge off. It was nice to be able to wake up clear-headed on Sunday morning.
I was proud of myself that I made it through my first weekend alcohol-free!
I read that it takes 10 days for alcohol to completely get out of your system. I hoped that by now I would be sleeping or feeling better and I can’t say I feel that different. I was still up at 2 a.m.
For a successful second weekend without alcohol, I did a few things to make it easier to abstain. I turned down an invitation to a party that’s typically fueled with wine and instead brought my kids to a pinewood derby event on Friday night. I invited some neighbors over on Saturday who are not big drinkers. Being around others that don’t drink has helped me stay on track. Plus, they’re fun to hang out with!
I’m proud of myself for abstaining from alcohol for two full weeks. I’ve had time to evaluate the moments I “need a drink.” It has helped me question if those thoughts are really true or if I’m just drinking out of habit.
I’ve been surprised by the number of people who told me that they too want to cut back, but feel pressured to drink socially. There’s a lot of stigma in admitting you want to abstain from alcohol, although it shouldn’t be this way. But friends seemed more than happy to abstain with me when I said I wasn’t drinking. I believe that people are afraid of others thinking they “have a problem” with drinking or being judged. Taking a break doesn’t mean you have a problem; in fact, you should be applauded for doing it!
I’ve made it this far, so I plan on finishing the last two weeks of Dry January. I’m not sure of the role of alcohol in my life moving forward, but right now I’m taking things one day at a time. Making decisions about whether I will drink at an event in the future seems overwhelming. But I know that I can make it through social events, book clubs and dinners out without alcohol, which has given me more confidence. And the realization that many friends feel the same way about alcohol and want to drink less empowers me to think about ways we could hang out without booze.
Dry January Benefits
This month has many physical, mental and even financial benefits. Here are a few:
- Improved overall health. Alcohol is a toxin and a Group 1 carcinogen. Avoiding alcohol improves liver function, reduces cholesterol, lowers the risk of high blood pressure and reduces your risk of many cancers.
- Weight loss. Alcohol consumption has been correlated with increased body weight. Alcohol itself is a source of calories, plus it also lowers your inhibitions making it easier to reach for unhealthy food.
- Better sleep. Alcohol can disrupt sleep, so it’s harder to reach the deep REM sleep that your body needs.
- Improved mood and reduced anxiety. Alcohol is a mood disruptor. Hangovers make you feel depressed, grouchy and anxious.
- Financial benefits. Not drinking can save you quite a bit of money. My husband was blown away at the cost of dinner out without any drinks!
Dry January can be a great way to feel and look better. Being 14 days in, I highly recommend taking a bit of time away from drinking on an annual basis. It can help you gain clarity around the role alcohol plays in your life. (It’s also fun to experiment with nonalcoholic spirits.)
Dry January Tips and Ideas
I’m two weeks into Dry January. This is advice I have for anyone tackling a sober month:
- Enlist support. You might be surprised at how many other people want to cut back on drinking. Be the leader in your social group!
- Take it one day at a time. It’s easy to get stressed about the future and your relationship with alcohol. Instead of trying to figure it all out at one, focus on not drinking today. Worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.
- Have a plan for triggering situations. Your cravings typically won’t last more than 15 minutes, so come up with a plan to get through them.
- BYOB. If you plan to attend a party, offer to bring nonalcoholic beer or nonalcoholic wine to share.