What is a hangover?
A heavy head, over-sensitivity to light and noise, sickness and a raving thirst – hangovers make you wonder whether it was all worth it! Symptoms start when your blood alcohol concentration starts to get close to zero – in other words, only when the alcohol is almost cleared from your system will you start to feel the horrible effects. Symptoms of a hangover can last 24 hours or longer.
Discover our full range of health benefit guides including Is low-alcohol beer healthy? And if you do over-indulge, check out our guide on hangover cures: fact or fiction.
With many of us enjoying a glass or two, here are our top 10 tips to prevent or, if all else fails, ease that hungover feeling.
On the day
1. Eat before you go out
Dairy foods, including milk and yogurt, are excellent stomach liners, so if you’re not going to be eating on your night out, enjoy a small carton of plain yogurt with a banana, a bowl of cereal with milk or some cheese and biscuits before you venture out. Eating something slows the absorption of alcohol, otherwise blood alcohol levels may peak after just one hour of steady drinking.
During the evening, avoid salty snacks like peanuts and crisps – they’ll only cause you to drink more.
2. Limit fizzy alcoholic drinks
It’s true that these really go straight to your head. The bubbles speed up alcohol absorption, so limit the glasses of sparkling wine, fizzy cocktails and champagne.
3. Avoid a nightcap
Darker drinks, especially spirits like brandy or whisky, have higher levels of compounds called congeners. These compounds are thought to make your hangover worse – so if you must have a nightcap, choose a light-coloured spirit instead.
4. Before you call it a night, drink plenty of hydrating fluids
Plain water is perfect.
The morning after
5. Avoid ‘the hair of the dog’
No matter what they say, more alcohol is not the answer.
6. Pimp your water
A sports drink or a rehydration solution will help restore your hydration levels and replace the sugars and essential salts you may have lost. You can make your own rehydration drink by dissolving six level teaspoons of sugar and half a level teaspoon of salt in one litre of water and sip throughout the day.
7. Limit caffeine
You may be desperate for that pick-me-up but it’s best to moderate the number of caffeinated drinks you consume. That way you’ll benefit from some rehydration, an alertness boost and possibly even alleviate some of the withdrawal effects of alcohol.
8. Tuck in to breakfast
It’s the best way to replace the vitamins and minerals your body will have lost while it worked overtime to process the excess alcohol. If you can’t face food, a bowl of breakfast cereal fortified with folate and iron should help to redress some of the damage and lift your energy levels.
Alternatively, if your stomach is up for it, opt for wholegrains such as a piece of wholemeal toast with a poached or scrambled egg, some grilled tomatoes and mushrooms and finish with a glass of vitamin-C rich orange juice.
Check out some of our delicious breakfast recipes.
9. Avoid aspirin or ibuprofen
You may think they’ll sort out your head, but they’ll likely irritate your upset stomach further.
10. Resist sugar
You may find yourself craving a sugary fix, but don’t give in. Consuming sugary drinks and foods now will only prolong your disrupted blood sugar levels. Instead, reach for fresh fruit – it’s thought to help lessen a hangover’s intensity. Try our strawberry and banana smoothie.
Before you head out for the night it’s worth bearing in mind the factors that influence how quickly alcohol might affect you. These include:
• Your gender
• Your body size and build
• The type of drink you choose
• Whether you’re taking prescribed medication – antihistamines, for example, speed up alcohol absorption
If you’re female and of reproductive age, the stage of your menstrual cycle will also play a part. Alcohol is absorbed more quickly when you’re pre-menstrual and during ovulation.
Don’t forget government guidelines suggest men and women should drink no more than 14 units per week, so make sure you know exactly how many units are in your favourite alcoholic drinks.
Find more top tips from Drinkaware on how to drink responsibly.
Hangover cures: Fact or fiction?
How many calories are in alcoholic drinks?
Is low alcohol beer healthy?
This article was last reviewed on 28th November 2022 by registered nutritionist, Kerry Torrens.
Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a registered nutritionist with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food. Find her on Instagram at @kerry_torrens_nutrition_