Oh, the dreaded hangover. For many of us, last night’s drinking invariably leaves its calling card the following day in the form of a throbbing headache, nausea and general misery, leading to avowals of “never again” and a desire to call it a day and head back to bed.
But does sleeping it off really work? A new study looking into the relationship between sleep duration, heavy drinking and hangovers says yes.
Researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands tracked 578 university students on their latest heavy drinking session, subsequent total sleep time and severity of hangover the next day, with the results showing that sleep actually does have a positive effect on relieving alcohol hangover.
“Our study confirms that drinkers with reduced total sleep time report higher hangover severity scores after a night of heavy drinking,” say the study’s authors. “Subjects who slept longer than seven hours consumed significantly more alcohol and reported an extended hangover duration. However, at the same time they reported having significantly less severe hangovers.”
Until this research, there had been surprisingly little work on the causal connections between sleep after drinking and next day functioning. One study from Glasgow Caledonian University of 40 moderate-to-heavy-drinking men found no significant effects of drinking on psychomotor performance the following day, although subjects fell asleep faster and reported being less alert the next day.
Another study from the University of Ulster found that alcohol consumption the night before has a negative effect on next day’s mood, including increased anxiety levels, along with disrupted sleep and resulting fatigue the day after.
Still one more study looked at the always-debated question about the hangovers produced by different types of alcohol, finding that high congener content drinks (in this case, bourbon in comparison to vodka) make for worse hangovers.
Researchers for the new study found that students who slept more than seven hours reported significantly less severe fatigue and respiratory problems the following day, as well as, less reports of feeling guilty. (No surprise there.)
Scientists say that sleep can help with repairing last night’s damage, since it allows the liver to do its job in clearing your system of booze. “You need time to let your liver break down the alcohol,” says Raj Dasgupta, assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern Californi’a Pulmonary Critical Care and Sleep Medicine division, who was not involved in the study. “Sleeping does help out in that it gives your liver time to do its job, but there’s multiple awakenings throughout the night, so you’re not getting good, refreshing sleep.”
But for the hangover, specifically, Dasgupta says that just as important is staying hydrated and boosting your system with thiamine (known as Vitamin B1). “There are electrolyte imbalances, low blood sugar and dehydration,” says Dasgupta. “In order for the liver to do its job, essential enzymes such as thiamine are needed to metabolize the alcohol.”
Various hangover cures have been proposed throughout the ages, including coffee, cold showers, milk thistle, pickle juice and, for the Canadians out there, a hearty helping of poutine.