You may not remember last night, but your body does.
Hey, it happens. Conversation is flowing, shots are pouring, and before you know it you. Are. Drunk. Really drunk. As you wake up in a blurry haze the next morning trying to recall just how many drinks you had the night before, your body nudges you with some not-so-gentle reminders: a pounding headache, bouts of nausea, dizziness, sweating, and, ahhh where’s the toilet! Total drink count? Too many—and now you’re paying for it.
While your go-to hangover cure may be a glass of water the size of your head and $40 worth of Chinese food, your body has a different process to recover from a night of binge drinking. Here’s why you feel like you got hit with a ton of bricks after a night of heavy drinking.
1. You’re like, really dehydrated. You may have already discovered that your need to pee becomes more frequent while you’re imbibing. That’s because alcohol slows down the production of a hormone in the body that helps the kidneys absorb water. So instead of being absorbed by the kidneys, fluid is flushed out of the body via urine. Drinking just four cocktails can cause you to lose nearly a quart of water.
As soon as you wake up with a hangover, you’re already dehydrated. Then, your hangover symptoms may cause you to sweat or vomit, leading you to lose more fluids, as well as electrolytes. This water and electrolyte deficit is what causes you to feel intense thirst, weakness, dry mouth, dizziness, and lightheadedness. Here are more clear signs you’re dehydrated.
2. Your digestive system is out of whack. As soon as you finish downing that margarita, the tequila begins to irritate your stomach lining, and causes it to become inflamed. As the booze digests, it starts bugging your intestines too. Alcohol may also cause a delay in stomach emptying (which is why you may still feel full from that burrito you ate last night) and increase stomach acid production. All this contributes to symptoms like heartburn, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
3. You’re exhausted. Sure, you probably conked out as soon as your head hit the pillow. That’s because alcohol acts as a sedative … at first. But as you’re snoozin,’ your blood alcohol level is dropping, which causes rebound excitation (a.k.a. your nervous system to want to party again). Alcohol also disrupts your normal sleep pattern, which decreases time spent in the dreaming state, or rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, a stage that is essential for storing memories, learning, and mood balance.
These sleep disturbances can cause next-day fatigue, crankiness, and grogginess. Here are other ways your body suffers when you skimp on sleep.
4. Your brain is foggy. Sippin’ on those vodka cranberries made you feel good, right? That tipsy feeling is due to a rush of feel-good chemicals, like dopamine (the “reward” neurotransmitter) and serotonin (the “happiness” neurotransmitter), that affect many brain and bodily functions.
Those cocktails may help you feel awesome during your drinking escapades, but what goes up, must come down. The next day, those brain chemical highs turn into lows, which can cause you to feel irritable, moody, forgetful, or upset. (The lack of sleep and fact that you’re hugging a toilet bowl all morning probably doesn’t help either.)
Last night: shots, shots, shots!
Today: not, not not.
Alcohol Hangover - Mechanisms and Mediators. Alcohol Health and Research. (Accessed on March 14, 2018 at https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh22-1/54-60.pdf)
Alcohol stimulates the release of dopamine and serotonin in the nucleus accumbens. Institute of Psychiatric Research, Indiana University School of Medicine and VA Medical Center, 1991. (Accessed on March 14, 2018 at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/074183299290004T)
What is REM Sleep? Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2016. (Accessed on March 14, 2018 at https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/sleep/conditioninfo/rem-sleep)