Is happy hour good for your health?

I’m a wellness nut, but one of my favorite ways to wind down at night is relaxing with a glass of wine or IPA. No matter how many studies I try to find that tell me alcohol is good for me, I know that it’s not. Even one or two drinks typically affects my sleep and leaves me feeling fuzzy in the morning, which then affects my workouts, eating choices, energy at work, and so on.

My Body on Alcohol

I started becoming more aware of the impact of happy hour on my body after tracking my sleep with the Apple Watch. After a normal night, my resting heart rate will be anywhere between 45 and 52, and can vary slightly based on the quality of my sleep, diet, and exercise. However, after a night with alcohol, my resting heart rate jumps significantly, into the 58-66 range. To get a better understanding of what’s going on, I downloaded an app called AutoSleep, which pulls data from my watch.

Here’s a healthy night sleep for me, sans alcohol:

My heart rate ranged from 46-62 over the course of 7.5 hours, and over a third of the night was deep sleep, represented in purple.

Here’s a night after 2 beers at happy hour:

Even though I was in bed for longer, my sleep quality was poor. I had very little deep sleep and an elevated heart rate, averaging 61bpm instead of 55bpm. The blue bars represent movement, with taller bars meaning I was more restless, and short bars meaning I was still. As you can see, after happy hour, I was more restless during sleep.

Why I Still Love Happy Hour

So after all that, I am still a fan of happy hour, and it’s not because I’m self-sabotaging. I understand that alcohol is not physiologically good for me, but that there are social and emotional benefits to meeting up for drinks. It’s energizing to connect with friends, coworkers, and even strangers, and for me that often outweighs the physical toll of a beer or two. (Plus, it’s delicious).

I want to have happy hour and great sleep. How do I do both?

Everyone is different, but for me, I’ve found the best results when I stop drinking at least two hours before bed.

A tool as simple as the Apple Watch helped me out. Your body could react differently than mine, so I’d suggest figuring out what works best for you. For the data-lovers out there, there are more advanced tools to understand your body’s state. Heart Rate Variability (HRV), which is much more complex than heart rate, is the best non-invasive measure of stress and recovery. If you’re not up for fancy tools and heart tracking, simply being mindful of how you feel and journaling can be helpful in understanding your body’s reaction to alcohol. Cheers to good night and a better morning!

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