I Stopped Drinking for a Month – First Time since College
August 22, 2019
Hi, I'm Sean
20 years of finance experience and obsessed with high quality results.
- I went 35 days without any alcohol. A feat significant in itself, but not as hard as I anticipated.
- I tracked all my sleep data before and after. My average sleeping heart rate decreased by more than 6 bpm, implying 76,000 less heart beats in a one month period.
- The results were overall positive, but enough to full-stop?
Alcohol and me
I drink almost every Friday and Saturday night and have been since I think college. Also throw in 50% of the time on any given Wednesday or Thursday, for good measure. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday are generally off limits.
I’ve gone through the brewing-my-own-beer phase and I belong to a number of wine clubs. I’m 43 and as I’ve aged, the effects of alcohol are more pronounced, particularly on my sleep quality. After as little as one glass of heavy red wine, I often wake up at 3:00am; likely due to a circadian rhythm induced liver cleanse.
Not only have I noticed that I wake in the night after drinking, but in analyzing my Oura Ring data, I’ve noticed that my sleep vitals improve significantly in the absence of alcohol, and more so after 2-3 nights drink free. So Tuesday and Wednesday nights, I sleep like a rock.
Alcoholic? I’m going to save that discussion for a very long blog, or possibly book. I suppose the fact that I have so much to say on the subject is telling in itself.
I’m a little bit of an optimal living eating sleeping fitness enthusiast. I try to eat healthy, and so avoid all processed foods and bad oils and when eating “meat”, only grass-fed naturally raised meats and wild caught fish. Grocery bills are ridiculous. I practice intermittent fasting (so skip breakfast). Regular cold water plunges and showers.
Daily workouts, including run, bike, swim, gym and yoga. Myriad of supplements. I track my workouts on Apple Watch and Strava. I practice good sleep hygiene and I sleep with an Oura Ring that tracks my sleep vitals.
The vices most detrimental to my overall health are likely: dessert (sugar), alcohol and caffeine consumption, the latter being the most debatable I suppose. I think sugar/dessert is likely the most offensive to my overall health. Or is it alcohol?
I wanted to objectively compare my sleep data to a normal month vs a month of not drinking. From a subjective standpoint, also wanted to see how it affected my relationships, feelings, performance and productivity.
My Oura Ring tracks a lot of data including sleep duration, times, sleep cycles (REM, Light and Deep), heart rates (min, max, average), heart rate variability (a measure of the variance in time between heart beats, which is an indicator of nervous system readiness), body temperature, respiration patterns, sleep efficiency (time in bed vs actually asleep) and more.
I stopped drinking on May 5 and didn’t drink again until June 8 (35 days). BTW, I was leading a local wine night fundraiser scheduled for June 22, so I basically had to start drinking in order to taste all the wines I was in charge of sourcing; I strive for excellence in all my endeavors.
I have a lot of data, but the most “telling” and easy to understand or relate to is heart rate. Below is a graph showing my average heart rate for the month of April (the normal drinking month) and May (the non-drinking month).
BLUE Line: My average heart rate per night for the month of April.
RED Line: My average heart rate per night for the month of May (and some of June).
The straight lines are trend lines. So in each month my heart rate on average trended lower as the month progressed.
Blue Line: Just looking at the Blue Line, you can see there is a lot of variability, i.e. peaks and valleys from the straight trend line. The peaks correspond to weekends. There were a few nights where I was averaging 57 bpm during my sleep; likely nights of heavier drinking combined with less than optimal sleep times and maybe poor food selection. A few times I dipped down to red line territory and that was likely a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday night.
Red Line: Two big observations: way less variability and significantly lower than the Blue Line. Pretty incredible that my average heart rate per night started at around 48 bpm per night and decreased ultimately to 45 bpm per night. That is 6-7 beats per minute on average less than when I was drinking.
Doing math of 6 beats per minute X 60 minutes per hour X 7 hours per night X 30 days = 76,000 heart beats. I.e. my heart beat 76,000 fewer times during sleep in the month of May. It’s likely that if I included the few hours leading up to bed this number would increase to well over 100,000.
Productivity increased and I would attribute that to having more energy and just tinkering around more in the evenings. As opposed to relaxing with a glass or two of wine on a Thursday night, I may instead find myself practicing the piano, fixing something or watching TV with my kids, which can actually be a healthy activity in moderation -- for example, it creates funny memories and common points of reference. I also read more, because I had the mental energy to engage in a book; not that you can’t read after a drink or two, but I think you’re more likely to sober.
Relationships. I should have my wife chime in here, but she was a little nervous that I would be more irritable and edgy than typical. I don’t think we saw that, at least not after the first week. Overall, I feel it was a net positive on relationships because when I did spend time in the evenings with people, I was more engaged and concentrated.
Feelings. I was curious if I would have any mental ah-ha moments or visions induced by a perpetual clarity of mind. Or would I be a generally happier or unhappier person? Answer: inconclusive. Next time, I’ll probably need to go longer and actively journal more to conclude here.
Physical well-being. From a vanity stand-point, was curious “hey am I going to look better”? Less wrinkles, baggy eyes, etc..? Answer: Maybe. What about increased overall energy and feeling good in the morning? Answer: Probably? It was really hard to put my finger on this. Clearly, I felt more refreshed and looked better than on a Sunday morning after a Saturday night bender of 10 drinks, but the results were not super obvious. My overall body weight and composition didn’t change much either; implying my lack of drinking was compensated by increased eating. And I can relate to that...instead of grabbing a beer, a might instead go for chips and salsa.
People ask me if it was hard and how I did it. The anticipation was harder than actually doing it. Getting thru the first Friday and Saturday night was the toughest; it was a change in routine. And to that point, to make it easier:
- I started planning things for early evenings. A common one, for example, would be a hard work-out ending around 6:00pm, so I got home and was simply starving for food, with no desire to drink.
- I also found a buddy to stop drinking with me and found some comfort in texting with him “how we could sure use a beer right now”.
- And finally I listened to some podcasts and read some books on not drinking, which helped provide some motivation.
Will I do this again? Yes. The next time however, I’d like to cut out all processed sugars - so no cookies or cake - and substitute the sugar craving with fresh fruit only. And I’d love to cut out caffeine as well...but I am only human here.
Clearly there is hard data to support that my body is more relaxed (lower heart rate) and recovers better when I’m not drinking. I do enjoy drinking though, and am not sure the benefit of not drinking outweighs the joy at this time. However, I could see this changing as I continue to age and experiment more.
If you have any questions, shoot me an email or comment.