What to do before, during and the morning after a big night out to minimise the hangover.
Medically reviewed by Dr Juliet McGrattan (MBChB) and words by Rhalou Allerhand
From a splitting headache to dizziness and nausea, if you’ve ever consumed one too many drinks, you’ll be familiar with the aftermath of a heavy night on the tiles.
While the only guaranteed way to prevent a hangover is to drink in moderation (or not at all), it’s OK to let your hair down every once in a while.
Here’s what to do before, during and after a big night out to limit the damage:
- Fuel up
It’s not just an old wives’ tale, eating a well-balanced meal before you start drinking (as opposed to a bag of crisps) reduces the absorption of alcohol into your system. Drinking on an empty stomach results in your blood alcohol levels rising quickly. Alcohol is absorbed more slowly from the stomach than it is from the small intestine where it travels to next.
Having food in the stomach which needs to be broken down and digested, slows down the speed at which the stomach empties and therefore reduces the amount and speed of alcohol absorption. Fuel up before you hit the town.
Snacking throughout the evening and tucking into a sensible breakfast the following morning will also keep a sore head at bay.
It’s easier said than done, but sipping water alongside your favourite tipple will pay dividends the following day. Alcohol is a diuretic which means it stimulates your kidneys to produce urine. When you drink too much alcohol, you pass lots of urine and can quickly become dehydrated (hence the banging headache in the morning).
As the night wears on you get thirstier the more dehydrated you become, which is why you may start to drink faster. Alternating alcoholic drinks with water will help control the amount of booze you consume, the speed at which you drink and will lower the concentration of alcohol in your stomach.
✔️ Top tip: after a heavy night out, drink a pint of water with a pinch of sea salt before you go to bed to rehydrate and replace depleted minerals.
- Take a power nap
Alcohol disturbs restorative sleep, which is why you’re more likely to wake up feeling groggy after a heavy night out. It also messes with your circadian rhythm and makes you need to pee more in the night.
The best way to beat the sleep thief is to allow yourself to have a lie-in, or go back to bed as soon as possible. If you have something important to do the following day, try and nap at lunchtime and get to bed early the following night.
- Pop a pill
If you wake up with a banging headache, avoid aspirin and ibuprofen; these medications can irritate an already delicate stomach. If your stomach is churning, opt for soluble paracetamol, as it gets into your bloodstream quicker.
For a healthier alternative, try the herbal remedy milk thistle. The theory is it helps your liver process alcohol faster if you take it before you go out and again the following morning. There’s no convincing medical evidence to prove this theory though.
- Keep it light
The Royal Society of Chemistry advises sticking to light-coloured drinks such as gin or vodka, which are purified by distillation. When alcohol ferments it produces potentially toxic chemicals called congeners, which are more prevalent in dark drinks such as red wine and whiskey.
✔️ Top tip: quantity is key. If you drink an entire bottle of white wine, you are still going to suffer the next day, so drink in moderation irrespective of your chosen tipple.
- Avoid fizzy drinks
We hate to be the fun police, but the bubbles found in carbonated alcohol such as champagne and prosecco can make you feel light-headed significantly quicker than still wine. A study in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine compared the effects of flat and fizzy champagne on the same group of people, and the fizz drinkers’ blood alcohol level rose significantly faster, as carbon dioxide speeds up the delivery of alcohol to your system.
- Side-step caffeine
Ordering a strong cup of coffee after a heavy night out sounds like an obvious solution, but while caffeine will provide a quick boost, it can also further dehydrate you, raise your heart rate and irritate your guts. This can lead to loose stools, feelings of nausea and palpitations – all of which will intensify your hangover. Sip water or herbal tea instead and your weary body will thank you.
- Shake it off
Trembling hands after a night on the tiles can actually be down to low blood sugar. A bacon sarnie will fix the shakes in the short term, but according to the Royal Society of Chemistry, brown toast with honey, (which replaces lost sodium, potassium and fructose) is a safer breakfast option.
Add a banana or coconut water for an extra potassium and fructose boost. A fruit juice or smoothie will also lift your blood sugar, plus the vitamin C will help your liver process alcohol. Avoid pastries, as a quick sugar fix is usually followed by an energy crash.
- Settle your stomach
Alcohol irritates your digestive system and increases acidity levels, which is often what makes you feel nauseous. If you feel sick in the morning, opt for plain foods such as dry toast or biscuits, but avoid cereal as the fatty content in milk can increase sickness.
Antacids such as Alka-Seltzer and Rennie will ease acidity, while a cup of ginger or chamomile tea can reduce queasiness and settle your stomach.
- Side step the fry-up
When your body processes alcohol, it causes your blood sugar to drop, which is why you feel ravenously hungry the next day. Contrary to popular belief, a high fat fry-up is not a cure-all. A substantial breakfast such as scrambled eggs on sourdough toast with baked beans is an ideal way to start your day. The beans and bread will steady your blood sugar levels, while eggs contain cysteine, an amino acid that your body turns into anti-oxidants to help mop-up toxins from the alcohol.
- Replace lost salts
Rehydration sachets, usually used for treating diarrhoea, can speed up your hangover recovery, as they contain electrolytes that replace lost fluids quicker than water alone. Isotonic sports drinks can also help replace nutrients lost after a heavy drinking session, as will Berocca tablets, which contain vitamins B, C, calcium and magnesium.
- Sweat it out
A brisk walk, jog or cardio session is probably the last thing on your to-do list after a heavy night out, but it will be worth it if you’re up to it. Start slowly and gradually build up if you’re feeling ok, don’t forget to take a bottle of water to sip.
While you can’t actually sweat alcohol out of your body, doing some exercise will help to clear that woolly head and give you a feeling of wellbeing. Alcohol tends to depress mood too and the mood boosting effects of exercise will soon have you feeling as good as new.