What happens during a hangover?
The science behind the misery
Written by spunout
Fact checked by experts and reviewed by young people.
Hangovers can be a really uncomfortable experience. No matter how amazing a night out was, a hangover can suck the joy right out of all those great memories and leave you feeling nauseated, dehydrated, exhausted and generally out of it.
What does a hangover feel like?
If you’re hungover, you might be feeling:
- Low mood/feeling down
- Intense cravings for fatty, sugary and processed food
- Intense thirst, no matter how much you drink
- Sensitivity to light and noise
What happens to your body during a hangover
Hangovers can affect your body in a number of ways. Here are some things you might experience:
Changes to your hormones
Alcohol actually affects neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin and dopamine. This means alcohol can have an affect your mood, causing you to feel down or low the day after drinking.
Alcohol also affects histamine, a chemical released by the body when you come into contact with something you’re allergic to.
Alcohol interferes with sleep quality, in particular REM sleep. REM sleep is the period of sleep where you dream, and it is also one of the most important stages. Even if you slept for 12 hours straight, you could still feel exhausted the next day because your sleep cycle has been disrupted.
Alcohol can irritate the lining of your stomach and increase stomach acid. This is what causes feelings of nausea and stomach pain.
Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it increases makes you pee more. The more you pee, the more dehydrated you will become. This is also why you’re likely to be very thirsty in the morning after drinking.
Dehydration can also reduce the amount of sodium and potassium in your system, which is why you may crave crisps or salty foods the morning after.
Alcohol causes the blood vessels in your head to widen, which is what contributes to the morning after headaches. It also seems to contribute to light sensitivity.
Low blood sugar
Some people are more sensitive to this effect than others. Alcohol generally lowers glucose levels in the blood, and can also reduce the stored sugar in the liver. Some peoples’ bodies just make more sugar to compensate, but not everyone can, and so you may find yourself dealing with low blood sugar symptoms like intense hunger, cravings, shakiness, weakness and headaches. If you are diabetic or if you know that you have a tendency to low blood sugar, you need to be mindful of this effect.
Best ways to cure a hangover
There is no end of hangover remedies out there. A quick google search will yield hundreds of potential remedies.
Some remedies, such as eating a proper meal before you start drinking, are best done before you hit the bar, but here are some things you can try the morning after.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Drinking water is important to combat dehydration. Some people even add a small amount of sea salt to their juice. This helps to replenish electrolyte stores. If you are feeling nauseated, hot ginger tea is a great remedy too. Go easy on the caffeine, because it will just dehydrate you further.
Eating well after a night of drinking can help you to get the nutrients you need to start feeling better. Eggs are a great choice, along with orange juice and bananas. Eggs contain a type of amino acid called cysteine which helps to break down alcohol by-products, and orange juice and bananas contain potassium, which you may be low on after your hard night. Be careful if you crave stodgy food though, your delicate tummy may not be able to handle it.
A hot shower
Some people find that the steam from a hot shower helps to ease their hangover symptoms. You could also take a hot bath and give yourself more time to relax
Walking in the fresh air
Walking outside is probably the last thing you want to do when you have a hangover. However, the fresh air can help a lot by increasing circulation and blood flow to the brain.