Abstaining from alcohol throughout January has become an extremely popular way of starting the New Year. In fact, according to a YouGov study from December 2018, over four million of us are planning to ditch alcohol for the first month of the year. But, can partaking in dry January make you a better leader?

There are several reasons why people choose to go teetotal in January. For some, its part of a New Year’s Resolution to drink less, for others it’s a way to detox after overindulging during the festive period. For others, it’s a way to support a charity, and the personal benefits that come along with dry January are merely a bonus.

Olympic athletes do all they can to ensure their bodies stay in peak condition to ensure they are able to perform to their full potential. As a business leader, it’s important to treat your mind in the same way.

Let’s consider how dry January could improve your performance in business and make you a better leader.

Alcohol and Sleep

Alcohol affects the neurotransmitters in the brain and central nervous system, making you feel relaxed. Due to these effects, some people like to have a drink to help them “drop off” in an evening.

Although having a drink or two may help you fail asleep sooner, the alcohol then prevents you from having a good quality night’s sleep:

  1. Drinking alcohol prevents the body from staying in a deep sleep and entering REM (rapid eye movement) cycles, causing you to feel tired the next day. REM sleep is also crucial for memory and emotional processing. Therefore, you may experience difficulty recollecting information, retaining information and managing your emotions.
  2. Once the body has metabolised the alcohol, the sedative effects dissipate, and you move into a lighter sleep, increasing the likelihood of you waking up in the middle of the night.
  3. The relaxation of the muscles causes the air passages in your mouth, nose and throat to narrow, causing them to vibrate, resulting in snoring or increasing the volume of your snoring. If you don’t wake yourself up, you may receive a kick or an elbow from your partner if you are keeping them awake!
  4. Like caffeine, alcohol is a diuretic. Drinking alcohol increases your likelihood of needing to get up in the middle of the night to use the toilet, even when you haven’t had much to drink before bed, further disturbing your nights’ sleep.

Alcohol and the ability to respond

While the effects of alcohol on your neurotransmitters make you more relaxed, they also cause you to think and respond slower. Therefore, if you pop out for a pint or a glass of wine at lunch, it is likely to impact your performance in the afternoon.

Drinking on an evening can still be problematic as the effects of alcohol can take 48 to 72 hours to disappear completely, so even that bottle of wine with your evening meal or your gin and tonic before bed could impact your performance at work the following day.

How can this affect you as a leader?

Decision Making

Decisiveness is widely considered one of the top 10 skills of a great leader. As a leader, you need to be able to understand how to make decisions that positively impact you, your employees, your customers and your organisation on the whole.

Sometimes decisions need to be made quickly, relying on your ability to think clearly and interpret information accurately.

To be a strong decision-maker, you also need to be able to recollect information, think quickly and be able to control your emotions effectively, all of which are more difficult if you are still under the effects of alcohol or lack sleep.

Creative Thinking

When faced with making decisions, you may find yourself confronted with unique challenges for which there are no ready-made solutions, in which case you will need to think “outside the box” and come up with some real-time solutions. The skill of creative thinking is invaluable in such situations. However, you need to ensure that you can focus on the problem at hand.

There is a belief that lack of sleep or alcohol use can spark creativity among writers, artists composers and problem solvers. However, research has shown that alcohol and lack of sleep affect your working memory. They prevent you from screening out peripheral information, which may lead to some great ideas and you experiencing “light bulb” moments. Now, this sounds great if you are waiting for inspiration to hit on your latest novel or you’re trying to generate ideas. However, research also shows, because you are unable to screen out peripheral information, it makes it difficult for you to focus on the task at hand and the information you need to help you solve the problem.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence is described as “the ability to accurately perceive your own and others’ emotions; to understand the signals that emotions send about relationships; and to manage your own and others’ emotions” and is another essential skill of being a great leader.”

Regardless of how well you carry out your management tasks or how technically proficient you are, emotional understanding is a must to create and maintain high performing teams. Your teams will not be as productive as they could be if they do not feel valued, respected and supported.

If you are suffering from the effects of alcohol or sleep deprivation, not only will you find it more challenging to manage your own emotions, you are less likely to pick up on changes of emotions within your team. This could be extremely detrimental if the organisation is going through a period of uncertainty or change.

Leaders lead by example

People follow by example more than they follow instructions. Therefore, it’s crucial to ensure that you are leading by example. If you want your team to turn up to work engaged, highly energised and provide quality results, then you need to do the same. You can’t simply talk the talk, you need to be able to, and be seen to, walk the walk. A good leader should walk the talk.

Other reasons why you may want to ditch the juice

Your Health

It is common knowledge that excessive drinking can lead to numerous health concerns such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, an increased risk of liver problems, breast cancer, heart disease and suffering a stroke.

Your bank balance

Drinking less can also spare your bank balance. Ask yourself: If you were to abstain from drinking alcohol for the next month, how much would you save?

If you like the odd pint at lunch, a couple after work on a Friday and a big night out on a Saturday, you’d be looking at saving around £250 per month.

If you are interested in calculating how much you could save, try this calculator from Cancer Research UK.

Dry January or Dry Gin?

Whether you should partake in dry January or not is entirely up to you, and I’m not going to dry and pursued you one way or the other? All I am aiming to do with this article is to give you some food for thought.

There is little evidence that fad diets, detoxes or gimmicky health regimes are sustainable in the long term. Unfortunately, what research does show is that many people who do partake in dry January, follow it by some form of binge drinking in early February.

If you enjoy a drink, and there is no other reason for you not to drink, there is no reason to completely deprive yourself of alcohol. However, if you do enjoy a tipple, you may want to ask yourself the following questions:

Do I drink out of pleasure or habit? It’s very easy to automatically order that pint with lunch or open that bottle of wine with dinner as you usually do. If you are enjoying it and it compliments the meal, fantastic. If not, do you need it, or would an alcohol-free alternative be just as good?

How many units do I consume a week and how often? The recommended drinking levels are 14 units a week spread over 3 or more days. How do you fare against this recommendation?

When do I drink? If you have a tipple to help you sleep at night, look at other things you can do to help yourself get off to sleep. Options include avoiding stimulants before bed, meditating, snooze foods and switching off technology in advance. If you like a glass of wine to wind down after a stressful day, how about a yoga class instead?

How much am I spending on alcohol per month? The Cancer Research calculator os a useful tool to work out how much you are spending on alcohol. Is it more than you thought? What else could you be doing with that money?

How much sooner will I reach my fitness goals if I reduce my alcohol intake? If your New Years Resolutions include fitness or weight loss, the more alcohol you consume, the harder it is for your body to build muscle mass.

Contact us to discuss other ways in which we can help you to improve your leadership skills.

Further information regarding recommending drinking levels, support for reducing the amount of alcohol you drink or useful contacts relating to the consumption of alcohol support can be found on the NHS’s website.

Gemma Rolstone

Gemma Rolstone

Helping good managers to become great leaders