5 Brain Health Benefits of Dry January, According to a Cognitive Neuroscientist
by Dr. Julie Fratantoni
Dry January is a challenge where people choose not to drink alcohol for a month. If you’re sober curious here are five good reasons to give Dry January a try.
5 Brain Health Benefits
1. Better Sleep
While alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, it decreases overall sleep quality. Research has found that alcohol (in all doses) tends to delay the onset of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. During REM sleep your brain engages in important functions like dreaming, emotional processing and memory formation. Abstaining from alcohol can improve sleep quality. Better sleep not only helps you wake up feeing rested and energized but can also help you lose weight, reduce risk of disease, be more productive, increase creativity and live longer.
2. Sharper Focus & Critical Thinking
Your frontal lobe is like the brain’s CEO. It’s in change of regulating attention and focus, solving problems, making decisions, judgement, and planning. The frontal lobe is vulnerable to the effects of alcohol and when you drink these cognitive functions become impaired. Sobriety supports your frontal lobe so you can do your best thinking in order to accomplish the things that matter most to you.
3. Improve Mood
Having a drink or two at happy hour may boost your mood or give you some stress relief but it’s only a temporary fix. Alcohol consumption over time increases risk for anxiety and depression and hinders your brain’s ability to cope with stress. Swapping alcohol for a different method of stress management is a move that will benefit your mental health both short and long term. Stress relieving alternatives to try: breathwork, any form of movement (walking, jumping jacks, take the stairs), quality time with a friend, or journaling.
4. Boost Memory
Alcohol impairs the brain’s ability to form new long-term memories and the ability to keep new information active in working memory. The hippocampus is the brain’s hub for memory. Drinking alcohol disrupts activity in the hippocampus and interferes with interactions between the hippocampus and other brain regions. Research has found that abstaining from alcohol can increase the volume of the hippocampus and improve memory.
5. Increase Mental Clarity
Drinking alcohol dehydrates the body and increases oxidative stress - two main culprits of brain fog. Your brain is about 75% water so it’s sensitive to dehydration. Drinking enough filtered water can improve mental clarity and cognitive performance. Aim for half your bodyweight in ounces. For example, if you weigh 130 pounds, you’d want to drink at least 65 ounces of water a day. Eliminating alcohol will also reduce oxidative stress which can help clear up brain fog.
- Better Together. Invite a friend to join you for motivation and accountability.
- Be prepared. Have a replacement ready. Try one of these mocktail recipes or create your own!
- Reflect. Use this as an opportunity to reevaluate your relationship with alcohol. Is it adding to your life? Is it helping you become the person you want to be?
Will you be participating in Dry January this year?