We've all been there, haven't we? Whether it's a night out or a night in, we've all had a little too much to drink and regretted it as we lie suffering the next day. However, how many of us have actually every stopped to think about why we feel so horrible the morning after the night before?
The Biology of a Hangover
A hangover is defined as a 'constellation of unpleasant physical and mental symptoms that occur after a bout of heavy alcohol drinking' (Swift & Davidson, 1998).
Many of the most difficult aspects of a hangover stem from the dehydration that builds up in the time you spend drinking. Alcohol's diuretic qualities cause the pituitary gland in your brain to pause the creation of vasopressin (the antidiuretic hormone). When this stops your kidneys send water directly your bladder rather than reabsorbing it throughout your body. This is why we have so many visits to the loo when we're drinking alcohol.
250ml of alcohol consumption can cause your body to expel between 800ml-1000ml of water. That's 4 times as much fluids lost as gained!
Alcohol consumption can also have a significant impact on the quality of your sleep. When we're drinking, the production of the stimulant glutamine is stopped. Then when we stop drinking, our bodies attempt to make up for lost time and try to replace the lost glutamine by producing more than it needs. This subsequent increase stimulates the brain while we're trying to sleep which causes the disruption to standard sleep cycles.
What Happens The Morning After
While you're feeling the pace the next morning, your body is trying to deal with the deficiencies that have come from the alcohol intake. Here's a breakdown of why you feel so horrible:
- Dry Mouth: dehydration has worsened overnight, meaning your brain is sending signals to replenish fluids.
- Headache: Your body has 'stolen' fluids from your brain giving you a dehydration-induced headache
- Low Sodium & Potassium Levels: Frequent urination has depleted mineral levels, causing fatigue, headaches & nausea.
- Lack of Energy: Glycogen has been broke down in your liver, turning to glucose and sending it out with urine. This gives you a low blood sugar level causing weakness & lack of coordination.
- Cell Function: Electrolyte depletion inhibits proper cell function.
There are a number of signs that you're dehydrated after a night of indulging in alcohol. As we've previously mentioned the volume of water lost through alcohol consumption can cause problems with headaches, nausea and low energy levels.
The severity of these can all work as indicators of your level of dehydration the morning after, but a great gauge is the colour of your urine. This is why it's very common for your pee to be a much darker shade of yellow after a long night spent drinking. This infographic provides a basic guide to measure your hydration level from.
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It's the million dollar question - how do you prevent, or cure, a hangover? Of course, if you drink an excessive amount of alcohol you're always likely to be feeling the effects the next morning but there are ways to limit the damage.
As you can see from the list of biological changes triggered by alcohol listed above there is no doubt that dehydration is a factor. Therefore, the simplest step to try and ward off a horrible hangover is to hydrate yourself with water.
It's important to be adequately hydrated every day however ensuring your body has plenty of water prior to an alcohol session is imperative. This will give you the best chance of keeping your body hydrated throughout the night and staving off the problems.
Due to alcohol's almost 4-fold capacity to deplete water from your body, to have any chance of keeping the headaches and nausea at bay you have to drink water as you go through your evening. Yes, it might be uncool and 'lightweight' but anyone who criticises you as such will be wishing they had joined you when they wake up the next day clutching at paracetamol and comfort food.
Water with Electrolytes
Of course, the best case scenario is that if the water you pace yourself with all night has the mineral and electrolyte content that can help protect against some of those nasty biological sequences set off by alcohol.
Phox's 5 stage alkaline water filter system enhances your tap water's mineral content, adds electrolytes and increases the pH level making the water less acidic. These are all qualities that your body will thank you for after a night on the booze.
As hydration is the only biological factor that you have control over while drinking alcohol, it makes sense to give your body the best water you can and hopefully this can be the weapon that fights off those dreadful ramifications of a night out... or at best, dilute them a little!