The hangover spectrum is wide and unpredictable, ranging from a mild headache to severe nausea. Throughout the month of December, alcohol is just as present during mid-week office drinks as it is at weekend holiday parties, leading to unproductive days at work and Sundays in pure agony.
For most of us, hangovers are inevitable during the holiday season - but that shouldn’t have to mean a day of misery. Read on for a compilation of expert tips and anecdotal advice to combat the most common symptoms of a boozy evening.
What is a hangover?
Although scientists haven’t discovered the exact causes of hangovers yet, they have come up with a medical term to describe the associated symptoms: veisalgia, from the Norwegian kveis (uneasiness following debauchery) and the Greek algia (pain).
Common symptoms include headache, nausea, fatigue, drowsiness, sweating, impaired cognitive function, and anxiety… if you wake up after a night of heavy drinking feeling fine, chances are the alcohol might still be in your system.
Due to the fact that alcohol acts as a diuretic and because people might neglect water intake while drinking, one of the leading theories blames dehydration for the headaches, light-headedness, and thirst. Newer theories posit that alcohol interferes with the body’s natural balance of chemicals, or that hangovers are caused by a buildup of the toxic compound acetaldehyde.
How do you remedy the predicament?
Every culture has its own magic solution – from pickled plums in Japan and shrimps in Mexico to America’s infamous Prairie Oyster (raw egg, hot sauce, vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce).
Before we get your hopes up, there is no ultimate cure… yet. However, a few handy tips and tricks might be able to reduce your agony.
1. Liquids, liquids, liquids
First things first, drink a lot of water to replace the fluids you lost – ideally before you even get into bed. Some people swear by sports drinks such as Gatorade to replenish electrolytes, but we prefer coconut or cashew water as a more natural option. Add a spoon of Pink Himalayan Electrolyte Blend to up both the level and variety of the electrolytes found naturally in these nut waters.
Drinking coffee can have two effects. On the bright side, it will wake you up, and taken with aspirin, it can ease your headache (studies have shown that combining aspirin with caffeine increases the effectiveness of the aspirin). If you need to be at work, coffee or green tea might be the only way for you to fight the fatigue and be alert. However, caffeine can also add anxiety and jitters on top of the already unpleasant hangover.
During some hangovers, a full English breakfast might feel like your only saviour. And while greasy eggs, bacon, and carbs might satisfy a craving, there is no scientific evidence to back them up as a hangover remedy. Instead, try eggs (high in cysteine, an amino acid necessary for the production of the antioxidant glutathione) combined with avocado (to increase potassium levels) and dark, leafy greens such as spinach or kale (to garner the mood-boosting benefits of magnesium and alkalizing properties of chlorophyll).
Other days, food might be the last thing on your mind, and you might struggle to keep water down. In these cases, fast-acting carbohydrates such as crackers can help increase blood sugar and replenish calories while not overwhelming the senses with intense tastes or smells.
3. Non-Magic Bullets
Painkillers such as aspirin or ibuprofen can be taken for fast relief of headaches, while antacids such as Gaviscon or Rennie may reduce nausea. Alternatively, lightly applying peppermint oil to the temples and wrists can relieve both headaches and nausea thanks to the muscle-relaxing and pain-relieving properties found in menthol.
In the worst-case scenario (say, a crucial end-of-year deadline or board meeting), IV drip services can speed up recovery through direct delivery of nutrients, fluids, and vitamins into the bloodstream. Because it bypasses the gastrointestinal system, intravenous administration ensures 100% absorption into your system. On the downside, IV drips are expensive (upward of £150 per treatment) and must be carried out by a registered nurse.
Avoid any miracle hangover pills promising immediate relief – they tend to be backed by very limited scientific evidence and are usually overpriced.
4. Action plan
Time heals all wounds, even hangovers. Alcohol might put you to sleep fast, but when it wears off you might awaken abruptly and have trouble falling asleep again. If you have the luxury of staying home, catching up on a few hours of sleep can work wonders (the human body is very capable at regenerating itself, especially when asleep).
If you have no choice but to show up at the office, we recommend a hot/cold contrast shower and a light bite at home. If time permits, try walking one or two stops further than your regular tube station: the fresh fresh air can help you wake up and get the blood flowing.
While the physical consequences of a hangover usually improve within a day, the psychological hangover can stick around. Initially, alcohol sends surges of dopamine to the brain’s reward centre. Heavier drinking, however, can deplete your brain of glutamate and serotonin, neurotransmitters which regulate your moods – causing an inevitable anxious crash. We recommend getting some fresh air and/or practising some light yoga or meditation to fend off the “Sunday Scaries”.
And some tips for next time:
Tips for avoiding hangovers usually sound mildly preachy to hungover ears, but they are fairly intuitive: drink less, hydrate more, have a proper meal before drinking (and if you forget, be sure to have a substantial snack before going to bed). Planning ahead can set you up for slightly less painful mornings: for instance, do your future self a favour and set one or two large bottles of water next to your bed before going out.