Somehow we’ve made it to the holidays, which means ‘tis the season for cozy nights, festive décor, all the cookies...and potentially painful hangovers.
According to one 2018 survey, the average American consumes twice as many alcoholic beverages over the holidays than any other time of year.
If you find yourself prone to miserable post-party mornings, keep reading. Below, we talk to experts about what causes hangovers and how to prevent them.
What Exactly Is a Hangover?
“A hangover is a set of symptoms or signs a person can get from drinking too much alcohol,” says Dr. Mariam Behbehani, an osteopathic primary care physician at One Medical in Irvine, CA. “Some of these symptoms include feeling tired, weak, and thirsty, as well as experiencing headaches, stomach discomfort, dizziness, and an increase in blood pressure.”
Is a Hangover Just Dehydration?
No. While dehydration is can contribute to the severity of a hangover, the cause of a hangover is due to alcohol’s effects on our body.
As your body processes alcohol, it produces lactic acid, which reduces the production of blood sugar. This condition, also known as hypoglycemia, can produce symptoms like an irregular or fast heartbeat, fatigue, anxiety, shakiness, sweating, and a number of other hangover-related issues (not to mention it can lead to serious problems like loss of consciousness if it becomes severe).
In addition to the amount and type of alcohol consumed, there are a variety of drinking-related factors that can contribute to the incidence and severity of a hangover, including mild dehydration, sleep disruption, stomach irritation, and even, overall inflammation from the alcohol itself, says Dr. Behbehani.
It may come as no surprise that the dehydration, hypoglycemia, and other alcohol-related issues that contribute to hangovers can also do a number on your sleep (which, in turn, can make you feel even worse).
Research has shown that poor sleep quality and duration can definitely impact the severity of a hangover, and alcohol consumption can directly affect both of those things.
When you drink alcohol, your body initially suppresses and then overproduces a natural stimulant called glutamine. When glutamine rebounds, it can increase waking and light sleeping during the second half of the sleep period and reduce rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, our body’s most mentally restorative stage of sleep.
How to Cure a Hangover
Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a magical hangover remedy (cue the tiny violins). There are, however, a few things experts recommend doing if you want to ease the worst of your hangover symptoms — here's a list of “hangover cures.”
If you want to ensure you sleep better and wake up without hangover symptoms, the best thing you can do is follow the hangover prevention tips below.
How to Avoid a Hangover
While there’s no surefire way to sidestep the negative effects alcohol can have on sleep and the headache-inducing hangovers it can cause, there are ways to mitigate painful hangover symptoms and possibly even prevent an intensely bad morning after. Here are some expert-approved tips for preventing a hangover if you choose to get boozy this holiday season:
1. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after consuming alcohol
If you’ve ever woken up with cotton mouth after a night of drinking, there's a good reason: Alcohol is a diuretic that can cause more frequent urination. To counteract this effect, it’s important to do something that may seem counterintuitive since you’ll already be bathroom-bound: drink lots of water.
“Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate,” says New York-based naturopathic doctor, nurse practitioner, and health coach, Erica Matluck. “Make sure you have had plenty of water (and some electrolytes) before a night of heavy drinking and try to match each alcoholic beverage with a glass of water throughout the night.”
2. Moderate your alcohol intake
The biggest hangover myth that Dr. Behbehani would like to debunk once and for all? That the order in which you drink certain types of alcohol determines the severity of your hangover — i.e. ‘beer before liquor, never been sicker.'
“The fact is, in general, the more alcohol you drink, the worse your hangover can be,” says Dr. Behbehani. “It doesn’t matter what kind of alcohol you have, it’s really the amount of alcohol that can cause a worsening hangover.” So, if you really want to do your best to avoid a painful morning, it’s best to simply limit your overall booze intake.
Do what you will with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) dietary guidelines, but if you follow the recommendations for adults of legal drinking age, you should only be having up to one drink per day if you’re a woman and up to two drinks per day if you’re a man.
If those rules aren’t in the cards for you, then at least consider only having one standard alcoholic drink per hour, which is all your body is able to efficiently process. Not sure what that means? A single, standard drink is defined as:
- 12 ounces of regular beer, (usually about 5% alcohol)
- 5 ounces of wine, (usually about 12% alcohol)
- 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, (usually about 40% alcohol)
3. Settle your stomach before and after you drink
We’ve all heard of establishing a protective “base” before drinking alcohol by eating a solid meal. But why would that help reduce the likelihood of a hangover?
By eating a proper meal before drinking, you’re helping to slow the rate at which your body absorbs alcohol, and depending on what you eat, you may be boosting your hydration levels as well, which as you now know, is a great bonus.
While some people swear by certain pre-alcohol meals, there’s no golden rule for what works best in terms of hangover prevention. But swapping out intense flavors for something on the less stimulating side may help minimize any stomach discomfort and keep you feeling steady.
“There is no scientific evidence on this, but bland foods such as bread, toast, and crackers have shown to help settle the stomach,” Dr. Behbehani says. “Soups can help with salt and potassium replacement as well.”
4. Pick your poison wisely
When it comes to the best drinks to avoid a hangover, research has shown that darker liquors tend to produce more severe morning-after symptoms due to compounds called congeners, which result from fermentation or distillation.
Some research indicates that alcoholic beverages that have more congeners (like brandy, red wine, and rum) can cause more intense hangovers than drinks with fewer congeners (like gin, vodka, or beer). Of course, everyone is different, so you may not want to rely on this one as a hard and fast rule — but it might be worth considering when you mix your first cocktail.
The Bottom Line on Hangover Prevention
While drinking alcohol always carries the unpleasant possibility of a hangover, putting these tips into practice may help you at least moderate the intensity of your hangover symptoms and snap back to life quicker.
“The best way to prevent and treat a hangover is to hydrate before drinking alcohol, moderate alcohol intake, get a good night's sleep, and start the next day with a nutritious breakfast,” Matluck says. And if all your best prevention efforts failed and you still wake up with a pounding headache? “Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate, and then exercise!” she says.