Guest blog: How alcohol impacts my sleep
In the run-up to Men's Health Week (12 -18 June), Garry Johnson shares what he discovered when he decided to cut back on alcohol and hit the reset button.
6th June 2023
How to reduce drinking
Looking in from the outside, you might say that my relationship with alcohol is a good one.
I like to have a drink, but I only drink socially. There’s none of the usual warning signs there and those close to me don’t express concern or disapproval of my drinking habits, and I rarely have a hangover.
I never wake up with regrets, or feelings of guilt and shame and I’m happy to be the designated driver and just not drink at all. So, why am I even writing this? Well, if I’m honest, there are times in the year when drinking becomes just a bit too prominent in my life. And when that happens, I start to notice things.
Drinking in social situations
For me, it’s usually the Christmas break, holidays, any major sporting event, family gatherings, birthdays and any kind of get-together. There seems to be some kind of get-together every weekend and I started to become aware that I was drinking more than I’d like on these occasions.
When those times end, my hands feel awkward and redundant, like they’re missing the job of holding a drink. I noticed this feeling after just a week of regular drinking and on that kind of timescale, it’s easy to control and cut down, but I didn’t like noticing it, or feeling that was the only way for me to be with people and have a good time.
Alcohol and sleep
There were negative effects on the body from alcohol too, side effects from drinking that creep up on you so slowly that you don’t even notice them, like the quality of your sleep.
I took part in dry January earlier this year. I do it every year and I find it quite easy to do. I look forward to it in many ways because, around the Christmas period, it’s sometimes five or six weeks of regular (almost daily) drinking for me, often with more drinking at the weekends.
This year, I noticed some really big, positive changes as a result of taking a break from alcohol in January, particularly regarding my sleep patterns.
My smart fitness watch records my sleep quality on a daily basis and my sleep score increased from averaging 78-82 points per week to 87-89 points. And, for the first time in a long time, I was waking up feeling really refreshed. I’ve never really slept well, even as a child, and one of my own children has the same problem. He’s only just started to sleep through the night (at the age of six) and that has no doubt helped, but he was sleeping through the night way before Christmas and the score didn’t change until I stopped drinking.
Not only had my sleep improved, I also noticed that I had loads more energy and motivation when I took a break from drinking. I was able to think more clearly. I found myself better able to concentrate at work too, as well as being more present in conversations I was having with people. All of this was against a background of just generally feeling better. Little aches and discomforts in my joints and in my torso also became noticeable by their absence and I started to find my workouts in the gym easier.
As January came to an end, I attended a big sporting event with friends and went for a few pints - I had 5 pints over six hours. I totally enjoyed the evening but woke up to find my sleep score dropped to 69 points that night. Drinking had affected my sleep cycle again. I’d also been drinking more than I realised at the time - binge drinking in fact. Binge drinking for a man is just over 8 units in a single session, and those five pints meant I’d consumed well over 11 units.
Resetting my drinking habits
This year, more than any other year, I’ve learned that alcohol has a bigger and more negative impact on my life and health than I’ve been appreciating.
I might not have been turning up to work drunk, getting arrested, or posting anything I regret on social media but drinking in that way was negatively affecting my body and how I felt.
The benefits of giving up alcohol for a set period of time have really improved my quality of life in ways I’d have never predicted, so I ended up doing dry February too. I still enjoy a drink, but I’ve reduced the amount of drinking I do when I go out and plan to cut down considerably throughout the year. I already feel so much better for it.
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