Health: Reasons we feel so bad after a heavy night

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Ever wondered why booze makes us feel so terrible? Read this and wonder no more...

We spend almost a year of our lives hung-over, according to new research. But what actually causes those banging headaches, lurching stomachs and fuzzy tongues?


You wake up with a banging headache, dry mouth and your tongue seems to have grown a carpet.

You also have bloodshot eyes and find noise intolerable.

“All due to dehydration,” says Mel Wakeman, a senior lecturer from Birmingham City University’s Faculty of Health.

“Alcohol is a diuretic (it makes us pee a lot), so our body essentially becomes dry. Headaches can be caused by this, as blood flow to the brain changes.

“Your eyes dry out, so there is less fluid to lubricate the eyeballs. And you generally become oversensitive to noise when your head hurts.”


Details of the night before are hazy. You also feel down in the dumps, or even depressed and full of dread.

“Alcohol affects brain cells and stops them from storing information in our memory bank,” says Wakeman.

As for our moods, while we may get a buzz and feel perkier after a couple of drinks, alcohol is actually a depressant.

This means that it affects neurotransmitters – the chemicals in our brain – and can often result in us feeling angry, teary and even depressed and anxious for days and weeks afterwards.


You can’t stop yawning and have difficulty concentrating.

As above, all that brain chemistry disruption may play a part in why you’re not feeling sharp, but another big factor is the poor night’s sleep you’ve just had.

“Alcohol can disrupt sleep for a number of reasons,” says Christina Merryfield, lead dietician at Bupa Cromwell Hospital. “Firstly, if you have a lot to drink, you may need to get up in the night to go to the toilet.

“Secondly, a deep sleep helps the body to restore itself, but alcohol can affect the initial process needed for deep sleep by interfering with the first stage of sleeping, called ‘rapid eye movement’ [REM].

“This disruption may also contribute to making you feel drained when you wake up.

“Finally, drinking also relaxes muscles, so although you can feel relaxed, you are more likely to snore loudly, causing yourself to wake up!”


You’ve got diarrhoea and might be queasy and throwing up, or ravenous and craving carbs

“Alcohol can upset your stomach by raising your stomach acids, which causes you to feel nauseous and unwell,” says Merryfield. “This usually lasts for 24 hours, but can be longer if you’ve drunk excessively.”
Feeling – and being – sick can also be due to a high concentration of alcohol in your stomach and bloodstream; especially bad if you’ve been mixing your drinks.

“It’s our body’s way of protecting itself – by making us feel rough, it’s giving us some aversion therapy to stop us doing it again!”

As for those cravings for stodge and sugar, that’s largely linked to being left with low blood sugar.

“Many alcoholic drinks are rich in carbohydrates, making our blood sugars surge upwards, followed by a downward crash as our body attempts to regulate our levels,” says Wakeman.


Limbs feel heavy, tired and sluggish.

If you were persuaded to do some drunken dancing the night before it may be a factor, but yet again, dehydration has a lot to answer for.

“Loss of fluid in the body affects the blood flow through all of our body tissues,” Wakeman points out, so this includes all your muscles and connective joint tissues.

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