You go out to celebrate your friend's birthday. You enjoy a great dinner and share a few bottles of wine with friends. Then, depending on how wild you’re feeling, you may end up at a bar doing shots of tequila and Jägermeister. It may seem like a great idea at the time, but you will soon come to regret it the following day.
If you have enjoyed a night like this, you’ve likely experienced a hangover. Research suggests that 75% of people who drink excessively will experience a hangover. It’s so common that a trio of movies named “The Hangover” were Blockbuster hits.
The word hangover is used to describe a number of symptoms that occur as a result of drinking too much. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, classic symptoms include headache, muscle aches, weakness, fatigue, vertigo, nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, increased blood pressure, sweating and irritability. These symptoms are often compounded, making you feel like garbage and promising you’ll never drink again!
Generally, a hangover will begin several hours after you stop drinking, but the factors contributing to a hangover start almost immediately. One of the most prominent factors is dehydration. When you drink alcohol, a hormone called vasopressin is suppressed. This hormone is produced in the brain and sends a signal to your kidneys, telling them to retain fluid. This causes your need to urinate to increase, and you lose more fluids. If you aren’t drinking water between alcoholic beverages, you will become more dehydrated with each dink.
The next factor contributing to your hangover is disrupted sleep. Alcohol can initially make you feel tired but will actually cause you to wake up throughout the night resulting in fragmented sleep. This is why many people wake up earlier when they have a hangover.
Some people can also experience gastrointestinal irritation from drinking too much. Alcohol is an irritant that can irritate the stomach lining and increase the amount of acid in your stomach. This leads to unpleasant nausea, stomach pain, and vomiting. Additionally, you will experience increased inflammation in the body. Inflammation contributes to the overall sickly feeling and general malaise you experience the next day.
Another reason you may feel so sick after a night of drinking is your increased levels of acetaldehyde. The liver metabolizes alcohol, and when this is done, a compound called acetaldehyde is created. Acetaldehyde is a toxic by-product of alcohol metabolism which causes inflammation in vital organs such as your brain, gastrointestinal tract, pancreas, and liver. Last but certainly not least is “hang-nxiety.” The term hang-xiety is used to describe the feeling of dread and anxiety you get after a night of drinking. Even in people who otherwise don’t have anxiety, this symptom can feel debilitating. This feeling of anxiety is a result of mini-withdrawal.
When you have an alcoholic drink, you can start to feel more relaxed and good. Your worries may start to melt away, and you feel better. Your brain tries to adjust to these euphoric feelings to maintain balance, but when the boozy effects wear off, you are left with lots of anxiety. As a result, you feel even more anxious and restless than you did before drinking. During a hangover you may also feel more irritable, depressed or moody.
Hangovers affect each person differently, and each hangover you experience may be different from the next. Of course, the best way to prevent a hangover is to limit your intake, but sometimes they just happen. If you have found yourself if this position, you have likely wondered what you could do to reduce your suffering.
There is an abundance of home remedies and myths about ways to cure a hangover. For example, some say drinking more alcohol (the hair-of-the-dog strategy), where others believe B vitamins are the way to go.
Sadly there is no cure for a hangover. Instead, you must address the factors that contributed to you feeling this way. Many people suggest “sleeping it off,” but it’s not quite that simple. If you were to spend the entire day sleeping, you would disrupt your circadian rhythm and could cause sleep troubles for days to come.
Alcohol is a significant sleep disrupter. Research has found that those with alcohol use disorder often report insomnia, and those who drink an excessive amount of alcohol suffer from poor sleep quality. A 2014 study found that in non-alcoholics, alcohol could help sleep for the first half but disrupt sleep during the second half of the night. In alcoholics, during drinking periods and during abstinences, individuals would experience excessive daytime sleepiness, profound insomnia, and altered sleep architecture.
This lack of sleep can make the other symptoms of a hangover feel worse. So, it is crucial to get enough sleep and allow your body to recover. A recent paper published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine stated that the less sleep you have, the worse the hangover would be. For example, the study participants who woke up repeatedly during the night and had a shorter total sleep time also experienced increased symptoms of thirst, sweating, nausea, heart-pounding, clumsiness, and shivering.
Although sleep can’t cure a hangover, it can help you feel better. The key is getting enough sleep but not too much sleep. It can seem complicated. You need sleep to prevent or ease a hangover, yet alcohol disrupts your sleep. Fortunately, there are ways you can get a better night's rest on your millet pillow and reduce the severity of your hangover.
Before you start drinking, plan for the hangover. It is better to be proactive and reduce the severity. Experts state that when you have more than one drink per hour, you are more likely to experience a hangover. This is because it takes the body roughly an hour to metabolize one drink. So, in addition to being mindful of the types of drinks you have, the quantity, and frequency, you should plan for a good night's rest!
First, make sure your bed is ready for you before you leave the house. Turn the temperature down, put on clean, cool sheets, and have comfortable night clothes to change into. You can also take a natural sleep aid before going to bed to help your body get the rest it needs. For example, taking a natural sleep aid will help improve your quality of sleep throughout the night.
Even with your best preventative measures in place, you may still find your sleep quality suffered during the night. If this happens, napping can help! When you sleep, it speeds up the detoxification process and can help rid your body of toxins. Dr. Mike Molloy, nutrition coach, says you can essentially sleep it off as a nap will help you “catch up” on the sleep you missed. He does, however, stress that it is not as good as a night of uninterrupted sleep without alcohol, but if you end up with a hangover – it can help!
In the case of a hangover, it is OK to have a longer nap, but if possible, try to have it earlier in the day and set the alarm. Though it can be tempting, don’t sleep the day away, or you may find yourself wide awake when evening rolls around.
When feeling groggy and tired the next day, coffee can help you feel better temporarily. If your stomach is in knots, you may want to skip your regular morning coffee and stay in bed. Unfortunately, this can also make your hangover worse. If you have caffeine every morning, your body will expect it, and if you don’t have it, it could give you a headache. So, if your stomach allows, try to have a small cup in the morning. Just keep in mind that although it may help you feel better initially, a late-morning nap may still be beneficial.
Hangovers can last up to 72 hours after drinking, but most are shorter and go away within the first 24 hours. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the length of your hangover depends on how much you drank, nutritional status, gender, how dehydrated you are, ethnicity, state of your life, and if you are on any medications. Consistently getting 8 hours of sleep, taking a multivitamin, and regular exercise can help reduce the severity. Still, there are so many variables that will determine how long it lasts and how severe it will be.
As mentioned, every hangover is different, and some are luckier than others. Some may benefit from waking up on time, drinking a lot of water, and having a cold shower, where others need to spend the day in bed. The best way to cure your hangover is to listen to your body and rest. Getting a good night’s rest or taking a long mid-day nap can help you alleviate your hangover symptoms. Your body needs to rid itself of toxins and hydrate, so don’t feel bad if you spend your day sipping energy drinks and laying on your millet pillow. Just try not to make it a regular occurrence!