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How to Plan a Healthy Vacation: Part 2 - Alcohol and HRV

If you are like many people, you might enjoy having a drink or two (or more) while on vacation. Assuming alcohol consumption is safe for you, you may relax by the pool with a cocktail, celebrate a special occasion with champagne, or sample the local beer or wine. Many people increase their typical alcohol intake on vacation; however, if you are also interested in planning a healthy vacation that boosts your HRV and promotes recovery, you should be aware of how alcohol affects your heart rate variability and overall well-being.

Alcohol is a depressant that slows down the central nervous system and reduces brain activity. It also affects the autonomic nervous system, which regulates heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, and other vital functions. When you drink alcohol, your sympathetic nervous system (SNS) becomes more active, while your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which is responsible for rest and recovery, becomes less active. This imbalance leads to a decrease in your HRV, indicating lower recovery and adaptability to stress.

It's important to note that even moderate alcohol consumption can impair your HRV and cardiovascular health. For instance, a study discovered that drinking three to four units of alcohol reduced the HRV of healthy young men by 12% to 24% for up to nine hours after ingestion. Another study found that binge drinking, defined as consuming five or more drinks on one occasion, reduced the HRV of young adults by 30% to 40% for up to 24 hours after ingestion.

So, does this mean that you have to abstain from alcohol entirely if you want to plan a healthy vacation that boosts your HRV and recover? Not necessarily. It all comes down to balance, your personal priorities, the goals for your vacation, and your relationship with alcohol.

The key is balancing having fun (assuming drinking increases your fun) and focusing on your health. Here are some tips on how to enjoy alcohol responsibly and minimize its negative impact on your HRV and well-being:

  • Limit your alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day.

  • Drink slowly and savor your drink. Don't drink on an empty stomach, and alternate your alcoholic drinks with water or non-alcoholic beverages to stay hydrated and prevent dehydration.

  • Avoid drinking too much or too fast, especially in hot weather or at high altitudes, as this can increase your risk of dehydration, heatstroke, and alcohol poisoning. If you feel dizzy, nauseous, or unwell, stop drinking and seek medical attention if necessary.

  • Monitor your HRV and other vital signs using the Optimal HRV app. Pay attention to how your body reacts to alcohol and adjust your intake accordingly. If you notice a significant drop in your HRV or an increase in your heart rate, blood pressure, or stress level, consider reducing or skipping your next drink.

  • Plan your drinking around your activities. Avoid drinking before or during activities that require physical or mental alertness, such as driving, swimming, hiking, or sightseeing. Drink only when you have time to relax and recover, and preferably not before bedtime, as alcohol can disrupt your sleep quality and reduce your nightly HRV recovery.

  • Enjoy other sources of pleasure and relaxation besides alcohol. Explore your vacation destination's natural beauty, cultural diversity, and culinary delights. Engage in activities that make you happy and boost your HRV, such as yoga, massage, music, reading, and HRV biofeedback. Connect with your travel companions or meet new people and share your experiences.

Following these tips, you can enjoy alcohol in moderation and still plan a healthy vacation that boosts your HRV and happiness. Remember, the goal is not to abstain from alcohol but to enjoy it responsibly while prioritizing your health and well-being. Cheers to a healthy vacation!


  • Ebrahim, I. O., Shapiro, C. M., Williams, A. J., & Fenwick, P. B. (2013). Alcohol and sleep I: Effects on normal sleep. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 37(4), 539-549.

  • Koskinen, T., Kahonen, M., Jula, A., Mattsson, N., Laitinen, T., Keltikangas-Jarvinen, L., & Viikari, J. S. A. (2009). Metabolic syndrome and short-term heart rate variability in young adults: The cardiovascular risk in young Finns study. Diabetic Medicine, 26(4), 354-361.

  • Koskinen, T., Kähönen, M., Jula, A., Laitinen, T., Keltikangas-Järvinen, L., & Viikari, J. S. A. (2010). Short-term heart rate variability in healthy young adults: The cardiovascular risk in young Finns study. Autonomic Neuroscience, 156(1-2), 6-12.


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