'Tis the season to celebrate -- but beware! One too many glasses of eggnog
at the office holiday party, or a bit more bubbly than you anticipated on New
Year's Eve, and you're likely to find yourself feeling less than cheerful the
Want to prevent a hangover from dampening your holiday spirits? Read on to
discover tried-and-true remedies that work, new methods meant to halt hangovers
before they strike, and why too much alcohol causes so much misery in the first
When heart specialist John M. Kennedy, M.D., of Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, stands at the scrub sink before an operation, he breathes deeply with seven-count exhales, visualizing how he wants the procedure to go. "Athletes use these techniques to perform under pressure, but we can all call on them in our regular lives," Dr. Kennedy says. It starts with knowing what kind of breathing works best for the challenge you're facing. Here's what the latest research shows.
If, while nursing a horrific hangover, you've ever asked yourself, "How
a couple of seemingly harmless drinks could have led to such misery?"
consider this: "Alcohol is poison. The hangover is your body recuperating
from being poisoned by alcohol and its metabolites," Aaron White, PhD,
assistant research professor at Duke University Medical Center, tells WebMD.
Symptoms vary, but can include one or all of the following:
Raging headaches. "Alcohol intoxication seems to
produce dilation of the blood vessels that surround the brain, which may
contribute to the headache in some people. Alcohol also has an effect on some
neurotransmitters, increasing levels of serotonin or histamine that may trigger
headaches," says Bruce Hetzler, PhD, psychology professor at Lawrence
Dehydration. Ever wake up after a night of heavy alcohol
consumption and wonder why you're tongue is stuck to the roof of your mouth?
Dehydration, also partly to blame for headaches and nausea, is the culprit. It
causes excess urination by stopping the release of a hormone that helps the
body hold on to fluid. Also sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea that sometimes
accompany excess drinking can cause a person to become dehydrated. The signs of
dehydration can be dizziness, lightheadedness, thirst, and weakness -- symptoms
that are felt during a hangover.
Fatigue. The day after a night of drinking and revelry,
you're probably wiped out. That's because alcohol disrupts sleep. Alcohol can
work as a sedative to help promote sleep. But alcohol has an effect on sleep
quality. "People who drink alcohol tend to have sleep maintenance insomnia
-- you wake up too soon and then you can't get back to sleep," White says.
That's not the only problem. "You don't spend as much time in 'slow wave',
or REM, sleep," White explains. Vital for normal emotional and physical
functioning, REM sleep (the dream phase) typically comprises between 20% and
25% of total sleep time.
A breakthrough study this year by Irish researchers Adele McKinney and
Kieran Coyle showed that memory and psychomotor (fine motor) performance remain
impaired the morning after heavy drinking, even when blood alcohol levels have
dropped to zero or near zero.
Other studies have also shown that alcohol can interfere with normal 24-hour
rhythms -- such as normal variations in heart rate and blood pressure seen at
night. A racing heart can in extreme cases lead to a heart attack. Increased
blood pressure and heart rate during a severe hangover can double the risk of a
heart attack, reports Jeffrey Weise, associate professor of medicine at Tulane
Health Sciences Center in New Orleans.