Now that classes are officially over, you want nothing more than to celebrate the end of another year of college. So you and your friends go to party after party, hit up the biggest shindigs of your college career, and drink more than you usually do. Sadly, morning arrives and you have the worst stomachache known to womankind and feel like you will throw up if you move even an inch. If this scenario sounds familiar, you know how unpleasant a hangover can be. So how can you feel better fast after a night of too much drinking? We talked to college students and an expert to get the scoop on hangover remedies that actually work!
Why do we get hungover?
Most of us know how a hangover feels, but not many of us are aware of why we feel the way we do while experiencing one. James M. Schaefer, Ph.D., an anthropology professor at Union College and alcohol metabolism researcher, explains what is going on when you consume too much alcohol: “Your body is toxic and unable to remove the main culprits, which are high levels of ethanol [alcohol] and it’s first metabolite, acetaldehyde,” he says. Basically, your body is taking in the toxins from your fruity cocktails and beers and can’t detoxify fast enough to keep you on your feet.
By the time you stop drinking, your body has absorbed much of the alcohol and hasn’t been able to fully dilute it within your system. Your evening buzz quickly turns into morning sickness. “During the hangover, your body gets the signal to rid of the stomach’s contents, thus vomiting and dry heaving ensue,” Schaefer explains. Although there’s no magic cure for a hangover, there are a few things you can do to get on with your life the next morning and alleviate some of your suffering.
Five hangover remedies that actually work
1. Sleep it off.
One of the best remedies for a hangover is staying in bed until the room stops spinning. Alexa from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst usually spends her hangover mornings with the lights off and her head buried under the covers. “Literally the only thing that works for me is sleep,” she says. After a night of drinking, the extra sleep helps Alexa feel back to normal by late afternoon, and she can get on with her day. Because alcohol takes so long to run through our systems, sleeping it off lets your body do what it does naturally.
According to Schaefer, rest and time are the only ways to really cure a hangover. “[Sleep] is the most natural way to get rid of a hangover,” says Schaefer. “And it is what the body is telling us—to rest. The high BAC [Blood Alcohol Content] leaves at the rate of about a drink an hour, so if the BAC is screaming up around 15 percent, it will take eight to 10 hours to return to zero.” Sleeping also helps you avoid the pain of hangovers.
You know how much bright lights and sounds hurt when you wake up with a hangover, right? Tuning out the world to let your BAC levels return to zero helps to avoid the sensory overload of a hangover by keeping your surroundings simple and comfortable. Another tip: Take a cool shower before settling in for the rest of the morning. Getting the smell of alcohol off your body can help you to sleep more comfortably and reduce your need to vomit.
2. Drink Gatorade and eat a light, salty snack.
For Allison, a recent Georgetown MPS Journalism graduate, eating pita chips while drinking Gatorade works wonders. “My go-to cure is Gatorade and pita chips. I know it sounds weird, but I swear it works. I think it’s the mix of electrolytes, salt, and carbs. But whatever the reason, it’s sweet, sweet relief,” she says.
Drinking Gatorade and water replenishes the water your body loses from a night of drinking. Now, what does a light, salty snack like pita chips, crackers or toast do? According to Schaefer, the snacks help to stabilize your stomach and get you to crave more and more water. “Alcohol dehydrates your body,” Schaefer says, “so drinking lots of liquids can only help.” The liquids flush the alcohol out of your system and help to restore the water balance in your body. It also helps to clean out the bad aftertaste in your mouth, which is an added bonus. Gatorade also provides a two-for-one in treating a hangover. “The electrolytes in supplemented drinks can help because that part of your system is also out of whack,” Schaefer says. If you have trouble even keeping that down, he advises taking small sips of your Gatorade or water.
3. Drink coconut water.
Coconut water comes from a young coconut before the coconut matures and makes coconut milk. Rebecca, a student at the University of Oregon, swears by it. “My go-to hangover cure is coconut water. It has loads of electrolytes and vitamins to restore what was lost the previous night,” she says. “I personally can’t stand the taste of the plain flavor, so I’ll get mango, pineapple, or if they have it chocolate is the best! I always feel better within 30-45 minutes.”
According to Schaefer, coconut water helps to replenish your liquids but it might offer something extra. “The coconut water probably helps to settle an acidic stomach,” he says. Considering that alcohol is an acid and milk (even from a coconut) is a base, the coconut water can neutralize the acid and get that rolling feeling in your stomach to stop. No wonder Rebecca feels better fast! Try a brand of coconut water like Vita Coco for fast relief.
4. Take an anti-inflammatory.
Hangovers often come with killer headaches and other aches and pains. Schaefer advises taking an anti-inflammatory, such as ibuprofen or Advil. “The anti-inflammatory reduces overall discomfort,” he says, so you don’t need to entirely skip pain pills. Just take one and chase it with plenty of water. However, stay away from acetaminophens, such as Tylenol, because acetaminophens metabolize in the liver just like alcohol does and your liver could use a break when you’re hungover.
5. Combine all of the above.
Aubrey, a student at Drexel University, doesn’t play around when it comes to recovering from a hangover. “As soon as I wake up [with a hangover], I drink a bottle of coconut water, a sports drink like Powerade, take a multivitamin and a B12 vitamin and an Advil,” she says. “It sounds like a lot of ingredients, but all of them together when you wake up cures even the worst hangover!”
Schaefer agrees that this remedy could definitely work to alleviate your hangover symptoms. “Sounds like a good solution because it replenishes key components that were robbed by the alcohol,” he explains. “The anti-inflammatory and B-12 is wise as they settle things.” This remedy won’t keep you from getting a hangover, unfortunately, but Schaefer does think it’s a good treatment for the symptoms you have after drinking too much the night before.
Things to avoid when you’re hungover
If you’ve heard that drinking coffee is a cure for a hangover, you’ve heard wrong. Schaefer strongly advises against it. “Caffeine in coffee keeps a person hyper, which counteracts the need to rest! Also, coffee continues the irritation of the GI tract, which needs to be calmed down,” he says. So skip the coffee and go for a cold glass of water instead.
2. Hair of the dog remedy
Chasing away the hangover blues with a Bloody Mary in the morning will actually do the opposite. “Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages to resolve a hangover!” Schaefer says. “That just starts to raise the blood alcohol level all over again.” He also warns that this “remedy” can also lead to an alcohol dependency, which is something much more harmful than the occasional hangover.
3. Greasy food
Think about it. Your stomach feels like it’s rolling, and greasy food tends to be heavy and well, greasy. “Greasy food will make a severe hangover with vomiting pretty ugly,” says Schaefer. Stick to light, non-greasy snacks, and take it slow. If you treat your hangover like a bad case of the flu in terms of your eating habits, you might be able to reduce that sick feeling in your stomach and keep the vomiting to a minimum.
Hangover prevention tips
If you’re going to drink, Schaefer advises pacing yourself throughout the evening. “Pacing means avoiding pressure to do shots and chasers, multiple drinks in a short period of time,” he says. “Think of an alcohol drink budget and spend available drinks in your personal budget wisely. Not all at one time! And don’t even try to keep up with a male [because] they may be able to drink 1.5 times more just because of body water differences.”
Skip the “dark, sweet” drinks, like rum and coke, because the carbonation can bloat your stomach. “The clearer and more filtered beverages are less likely to complicate an evening,” Schaefer says. Chase your drinks with water to help dilute the effect of alcohol and eliminate “the junk” before it becomes a hangover the next morning. Your body will thank you later, and your evening won’t be such a blur.
Another reason to watch your drinking is to protect yourself from blacking out. While getting a buzz from drinking is fun, you want to be able to remember all of the fun you had the next morning.