It’s the morning after a long night of raucous overindulgence in your favorite libation. Last night’s events are slowly coming back to you in a blur as you lethargically open one eye and awaken to that distinct, unpleasant, all-too-familiar feeling. It feels like you have:
a) Been hit by a car.
b) Been bashed over the head with a bat by Rambo.
c) Traversed the entire Sahara desert without a drop of water and are now on the verge of shriveling up.
d) All of the above.
We’ve all been there before. With symptoms including fatigue, headache, sensitivity to light and sound, muscle aches, increased blood pressure, anxiety, depression and dizziness -- it makes sense to strive to have as few hangovers in life as possible.
But with Gen-Y mantra of "work hard, play harder," we’re bound to get them — probably more often than we’d prefer. But this doesn’t have to be so; check out the following list of hangover causes and cures:
Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance
Alcohol is an inhibitor of the hormone ADH (Anti-Diuretic Hormone), which is responsible for keeping water inside your body. Reduced ADH in the body prevents the kidneys from reabsorbing water, causing increased urinary output. This leads to dehydration, which is commonly associated with headaches and dizziness.
Alcohol also directly irritates the stomach and intestines, which leads to inflammation of the intestinal lining. High levels of alcohol consumption can cause fatty acids to build up in the liver, in addition to increasing the amount of pancreatic and gastric acid release in the body. These factors contribute to the vomiting, nausea and abdominal pain present in hangovers and can also throw off the electrolyte balance in your body, which further contributes to dehydration and headaches.
SOLUTION: Make sure to replenish your body with plenty of water and electrolytes. While drinking water alone is helpful, putting more electrolytes in your system will make you feel exponentially better. Electrolytes help your body to retain water. Gatorade and coconut water are great options. If you hydrate yourself before you actually feel hungover, you may be able to sidestep the hangover completely.
Keep a big bottle of Gatorade next to your bed and drink most of it before you fall asleep after a night of drinking, then finish it when you wake up; you will be much more likely to continue the day unencumbered from the wrath of the previous night’s debauchery.
Congeners are compounds commonly found in alcoholic beverages that contribute to a drink’s taste, smell and appearance. They are byproducts of the fermentation process, and research has shown that congeners are also a major players in producing headaches and hangovers. Drinks that are higher in congener content include red wine, dark beers, bourbon, tequila, and darker spirits. Congeners are also more commonly found in lower-quality alcohol (read: plastic bottles).
SOLUTION: Be wise with your choice of liquor. If you’re planning to spend half of your night pounding shots, spend a little extra money to make sure the shots won’t be the reason that your head is pounding the next day. Also, be careful when mixing liquors, as doing so can also contribute to nausea and headaches.
Drinking on an empty stomach
Without any food in your stomach, your body will absorb the alcohol much faster and you will immediately put yourself at risk for a vicious hangover. While you will get drunk faster, you’re also more likely to hit the floor faster. No, not the dance floor (although that may be true as well), but the floor floor: blackout city. The more you disturb the balance in your body, the more difficult it becomes to reestablish homeostasis.
SOLUTION: Eat something before you start drinking! Pick something that is high in protein that will digest slowly, like meats or nuts. This will help coat your stomach and slow the alcohol absorption process. The slower the alcohol absorbs, the easier it is for your liver to run its course of detox and get you back to normal.
Research has shown that individuals who consume nicotine and alcohol simultaneously may be twice as susceptible to severe hangovers than those who stick to just alcohol. Scientists have not yet pinpointed the exact causes, but have theorized that the release of cytokines due to the body’s exposure to nicotine may cause inflammation that can lead to headaches and nausea.
SOLUTION: Take this into consideration before you’re out drinking. Since alcohol inhibits the parts of our brains that are responsible for rational decision-making, it can be tough to stop yourself from smoking a cigarette if you’re already drunk. Take the necessary steps to eliminate bad habits when you’re sober so you make fewer regretful decisions when you’re drunk.
Loss of Sleep
Part of the reason we experience fatigue during a hangover is that we didn’t get enough sleep after drinking. Alcohol disrupts sleep patterns, decreasing time spent in REM and increasing the time spent in slow-wave sleep. Alcohol increases relaxation in the throat muscles, which can increase snoring and disrupt normal breathing patterns. Additionally, alcohol can affect our circadian (24-hour) cycles, which can cause us to feel a sort of “jet-lag” that further contributes to unpleasant hangover effects.
SOLUTION: Don’t get wasted if you have something really important planned for the following day. If you wake up super early, drink some Gatorade and go back to bed. The less sleep you get, the more pronounced your hangover will be.