Is Coffee Good for Hangovers? How Caffeine Affects You?
You've seen it in movies and on TV. When someone has a hangover, coffee is billed as the best cure. It makes sense because the caffeine can make you more alert to stave off the sleepiness you naturally feel after too much to drink. But is coffee good for hangovers like they say?
The Good News About Caffeine
Caffeine jumpstarts your body through the release of chemicals called neurotransmitters. Norepinephrine and epinephrine stimulate several reactions which prepare you for fight-or-flight situations. Each effect enhances your ability to respond effectively.
First, it increases your heart rate. That leads to a spike in blood flow and oxygen to your muscles. If you're feeling sluggish because of a hangover, you might welcome that extra boost. Caffeine also stimulates your metabolism to keep you well fueled. So far, so good.
Second, caffeine causes a myriad of reactions in your brain. The combined effects lead to an increase in alertness and focus. If you're feeling a bit punchy the next morning, you may think a cup of joe is just the ticket to get you back on track.
Finally, caffeine acts fast. You can begin to feel its effects in as little as 30 minutes. When you have a hangover, you want relief quick. And best yet, you'll continue to feel it for up to four hours after that first sip. At first glance, it sounds like the ideal solution for your woes.
The Downside of Caffeine
Despite some positive things on its side, there are some negative aspects of drinking caffeinated beverages that you should consider as well. For example, some effects of caffeine may worsen the symptoms of a hangover, prolonging your misery.
Some people have trouble sleeping after heavy drinking. Taking a stimulant like coffee certainly won't help you sleep—especially if you are susceptible to its effects. That can hamper your recovery and prevent you from sleeping it off.
You may also find that you are more sensitive to lights and sounds, explains Mayo Clinic. Being more alert to your surroundings may seem like the last thing you'd want with a hangover. Rather than making it better, coffee may make you feel worse.
Think About Your Heart
Some of the downsides of coffee for a hangover lie with the fact that its effects mirror the symptoms of a hangover. When you're not feeling well, caffeine serves a contrary purpose. You'll likely find that the severity of your symptoms creates a wider gulf between the bad and worse.
This reaction is especially true with your cardiovascular system. Remember, caffeine increases your heart rate as well as the force behind it. A common symptom of a hangover is a rapid heartbeat. Coffee may heighten these effects so that you experience palpitations.
Palpitations give you the sensation that your heart is racing. The symptom is often harmless but can be unpleasant. It may also raise a red flag for an abnormal heart valve or even heart disease. A hangover with an increase in caffeine consumption can create a serious situation.
Myths About Coffee and Hangovers
Anecdotes suggest that coffee will alleviate many common symptoms of a hangover. But reality paints a different picture. For one, it's not going to sober you up any quicker. The only way to do that is with time so that your body can metabolize it and rid it from your system.
The rate at which that occurs is the same no matter how big or small of a person. And the type of alcohol doesn't affect that rate at which that happens either whether it's a fine pinot noir or tequila shots. It's all about the liver and how quickly the alcohol can get to it.
Ditto as far as that headache is concerned. Remember, caffeine increases your heart rate. What you might experience instead is a greater pounding sensation in your head. And it's not going to go away anytime soon. The effects of that cup of coffee are going to last a few hours.
What Affects Your Hangover?
There are several factors that you can control which will affect your hangover. You can prevent some of the aftereffects by having a full meal before drinking. That will slow the speed at which alcohol gets to your liver and begins the string of chemical reactions that cause a hangover.
You can also avoid some symptoms by sticking with beverages low in congeners. These are by-products of fermentation. Clear alcohols like vodka have far less than other liquors like whiskey. Congeners can amplify your symptoms and make you feel worse.
And it's not as much about not mixing your drinks but about avoiding the ones more likely to make you feel lousy the next day. The same consideration applies to coffee.
Bottom Line: Gastrointestinal Aftermath
Finally, you need to consider the effects on your digestive system. Caffeine ramps up your metabolism, making you feel hungry quicker. If you're feeling nauseated, food will be the last thing you want even if your stomach is growling up a storm.
Caffeine also stimulates gastric acid production. If you have acid reflux, a cup of coffee can make it even worse. And along with nausea, the combined effects on your digestive system will take joe off your list of surefire hangover cures.
Dealing with Your Hangover
The best way to deal with a hangover is time. You should also focus on the symptoms and what you can do to relieve them. While coffee may seem like a good option, it may make you feel worse for a longer period. Of course, a lot depends on the circumstances.
You'll likely be dehydrated when you wake up, especially if you weren't drinking water the night before. Test the tolerance of your digestive system first with some water to see how you can keep it down. Use your body's response as a clue to what happens next.
If all seems fine, try something light such as a piece of toast and maybe a half of cup of joe. To avoid a sugar crash, forgo the sugar or sweetened creamers. On an empty stomach, the sugar will metabolize quickly. You can avoid other symptoms by keeping your glucose levels stable.
Learn from Experience
No one plans for a hangover when going out on the town. But if you find yourself the worse for wear the next day, your plan of action should include lots of downtime so that your body can get rid of the alcohol along with the symptoms it causes. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut to relief.
Be patient because you will feel better with time. Concentrate on getting yourself hydrated to avoid additional complications. Perhaps learn from the situation so that you can avoid a hangover the next time.