The connection between alcohol and energy is less clear for more moderate drinking. Can a couple of drinks really be enough to impact your energy the next day? According to Brad Lander, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and who specializes in alcohol addiction, it may—especially if alcohol is a part of your wind-down routine on a consistent basis.
There are three key ways Dr. Lander says consistent moderate drinking can affect energy levels, and they're all connections many may not be aware of. Spoiler alert: The relationship between energy levels and alcohol consumption indicate that when someone nixes alcohol from their life—yes, even moderate amounts—they can expect to feel more energized and clear-headed. Want to find out exactly why? Keep reading for the facts.
3 ways energy levels change when you cut out alcohol
1. You'll sleep better.
Dr. Lander says that one of the biggest misconceptions about alcohol is that it will help you sleep better. Actually, the opposite is true. "While alcohol is initially sedating, once it is metabolized it can lead to disrupted, poor quality of sleep later in the night," neuroscientist Kristen Willeumier, PhD previously told Well+Good. This means that while you may initially fall asleep quickly, you're likely to wake up in the middle of the night and miss out on REM sleep, the part of the sleep cycle that's most restorative to the brain and body.
"This can affect someone's energy level even after one night," Dr. Lander says. "There is so much healing in the brain that goes on during sleep and if your sleep is disruptive, you miss out on that." Scientific studies back this up. Moderate and heavy drinking have both been shown to lead to less time in REM sleep, particularly when it's done consistently. (Moderate being defined as two to three drinks.)
"If you have one drink early in the evening, it likely don't disrupt your sleep. But if you have two or three drinks closer to the time you go to bed, then it likely will," Dr. Lander says. When this happens, you're more likely to wake up tired because your body didn't get the restorative sleep it needs.
2. You'll be more hydrated.
Even though alcoholic drinks are liquid, Dr. Lander says they aren't actually hydrating. "The more you drink, the more dehydrated you get," he says. This is because alcohol is a diuretic. (Cue every over-embellished "breaking the seal" comment you heard in college.)
"What happens when you're dehydrated is that you're more likely to experience brain fog and have less energy," Dr. Lander says. "When you're dehydrated, the biochemical reactions that occur when breaking down carbohydrates and fat for energy slow down. You’re not getting that energy as quickly as you would," nutrition expert Paula Simpson, RNCP, previously told Well+Good.
Simply put, when you take a break from alcohol and replace your booze with something that's actually hydrating, your brain works better. One article published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise analyzed 33 different studies and found that even being mildly dehydrated impacted cognition. Another study published in The Journal of Nutrition found that women who were mildly dehydrated were more likely to feel tired and less energized. (Interestingly, this particular study did not find a connection between mild dehydration and cognition.)
The bottom line is that being well hydrated is better for your brain—and consistent moderate or heavy drinking can get in the way of that.
3. Your gut will function better.
"Alcohol is an irritant to every tissue in the body, from our lips all the way through," Dr. Lander says. That includes the gut. While he says one drink isn't a big deal, more than that can start creating an imbalance. Gastroenterologist Niket Sonpal, MD, previously shared this sentiment with Well+Good too, explaining that alcohol can damage the lining of the gut walls, making it harder to absorb certain nutrients while at the same time killing off both good and bad bacteria. "The bad bacteria tend to grow more and so we ended up getting a mismatch of the microbiome as well," Dr. Sonpal shared.
This is a big deal because the gut impacts every part of health, including how well the immune system is functioning, brain health, and (drumroll) energy. "Accumulating evidence suggests that the gut microbiota plays an important role in the harvest, storage, and expenditure of energy obtained from the diet," reads a scientific article published in the journal Nutrition In Clinical Practice. Minimizing alcohol will help support your gut, which in turn can lead to feeling more energized.
Again, Dr. Lander reiterates that one drink isn't really that big of a deal when it comes to how alcohol affects energy, but if you've gotten in the habit of having two, three, or more drinks consistently before heading to bed, there's very likely some untapped energy you could be benefitting from if you cut back. If you're worried you've become dependent on alcohol, consider calling or texting American Addiction Centers for information on how to get help. And if you're looking for alternatives to alcohol, check out these nine brands.
Just knowing the connection between alcohol consumption and energy is important. That way, if you start feeling run-down and you can't figure out why, it's a factor to consider. Millions of people in the U.S. are chronically tired and fatigued. Getting to the root causes can be complicated, but alcohol certainly can play a part. When it comes to how cutting back can make you feel, the results could be, well, sobering.
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