As the New Year approaches, there are a number of articles and advice about simple ways to avoid a hangover. Besides not drinking at all, there’s really no proven method that works. This US News & World Report article does give some practical advice on how you can lessen the severity of your hangover the day after New Year’s festivities. As I read through this article, I couldn’t help but to point out some common myths that are still perpetuated in the media and the medical profession:
Myth #1: Alcohol causes dehydration. Just because you pee more doesn’t mean you’re dehydrated. If you drink an excessive volume of liquids, your kidneys will make sure to pee out the excess amount. However, since alcohol is a strong muscle relaxant, which causes you to stop breathing much more often when you’re in deep sleep. For many people, alcohol will temporarily cause obstructive sleep apnea, which is a common sleep-breathing disorder where you literally stop breathing anywhere from 10 to 100 times per hour, lasting anywhere from 10 to 50 seconds.
We know that in sleep apnea patients, due to the intense negative pressures that are generated in the chest, blood flow is partially diminished during these breathing pauses. But as soon as breathing resumes, blood rushes back into the heart chambers, causing your heart to think that it’s fluid overloaded. This causes your heart to make a hormone called atrial natriuretic peptide, which makes your kidneys make more urine. But then, because you’re more likely to wake up every time you stop breathing, you feel a little distention in your bladder, and you think you have to go to the bathroom. Studies have shown that it’s the breathing pauses that wakes you up, and not having too much urine in your bladder.
Myth #2: Your pounding headache is from the alcohol. Notice how the typical features of a hangover—pounding headache, nausea, sensitivity to bright lights or noises—are almost identical to a migraine. Many people with obstructive sleep apnea wake up every morning with very similar symptoms, without having ingested any alcohol. Deep sleep deprivation is a major cause of headaches.
Myth #3: Eat crackers, toast, bananas or pretzels. The reason is to make up for a drop in blood sugar and lost potassium from increased urination. While this advice may be true, and can be helpful if you don’t stop breathing at all. But since by definition a hangover means you stop breathing much more often than normal, having any food in the stomach is the worst thing you can do. Every time you stop breathing, you’ll create a vacuum effect, which suctions up your stomach juices into your throat. This not only wake you up more often from deep to light sleep, it’s what also causes you to have a sore or dry throat in the morning. It’s not from dehydration. This can then go into your nose and cause a stuffy nose.
Looking at hangovers from my sleep-breathing paradigm, the smaller your jaws, or if you prefer to sleep on your side or stomach, the more likely you’ll suffer from a hangover after a night of drinking. The smaller jaw volume allows your tongue to fall back and obstruct your breathing more easily with the same amount of alcohol. This is why in general, it’s a good idea to avoid any alcohol within 3-4 hours of bedtime.
There’s one simple tip that may help some people from having a hangover (but not everyone): Use Afrin nasal spray and Breathe Rite strips just before going to bed. Since alcohol causes nasal congestion, it can cause your tongue to fall back easier and obstruct your breathing. Having an overly open nose may be enough to prevent your tongue from falling back too often.
For those of you who plan on celebrating this New Year’s eve and indulge in alcohol, try this simple nasal tip. Please report to me your experiences. Did breathing better through your nose lessen or eliminate your hangover after a night of drinking?