science of us

How to Make It Through the Workday With a Hangover

Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

Well, you did it. You woke up this morning, opened your eyes, maybe even successfully sat up in bed.

And then, if you spent yesterday having a little too much fun, you immediately closed them again and wished for the room to stop spinning. And then the terrible reality of your situation hit: You still have to get up and go to work today, hangover and all.

You have two missions here. One is to mask your hangover; the other is to ease it. Because — let’s get this out of the way now — easing it is the best you can hope for. Aside from time and patience, there’s no such thing as a hangover cure. No matter how you slice it, today is going to be a rough one. The sooner you accept your fate, the sooner you can focus on making it through the workday without losing your job, your mind, or your dignity.

Do not — I repeat, do not — have another drink.

Once upon a time, the term “hair of the dog” was taken literally: It stems from an old folk belief that when someone was bitten by a rabid dog, they could be cured by drinking a potion brewed with a few hairs from that same dog. If it wasn’t obvious, the idea doesn’t actually have any grounding in science — and neither, unfortunately, does the idea that imbibing in the morning will banish a hangover.

Hangover symptoms start kicking in as your blood-alcohol level gets closer to zero, which means that, yes, having another drink might stave them off, but all you’re doing here is postponing the inevitable. (Say it with me: There’s no such thing as a hangover cure!) Besides, the only thing worse than showing up to work hung-over is showing up buzzed.

Take a shower.

Yes, your body is screaming out for more rest right now — but instead of hitting the snooze button one more time, you’d be much better served hauling your butt out of bed and making yourself into some semblance of a functional human.

Luckily, there’s not much to the myth that a cold shower will wash a hangover away, but a shower of any temperature is a good idea. For one thing, it’ll help you feel a little more alert. For another, it’ll rinse away all your boozy sweat, which means you won’t trigger your own gag reflex every time you inhale. (It’s also a cover-your-tracks move that pulls double duty as a simple kindness to your co-workers — and as long as we’re on the subject, make sure to brush your teeth, too.) And if you really need an extra boost, go for an outfit that’s a little snazzier than usual — dressing the part of a competent, fully alert employee will help you feel like one, too.

Be strategic about your breakfast.

When you’re hung-over, you probably want the greasiest, cheesiest, fattiest thing you can get your hands on — but that’s not necessarily the best idea. In a study published last year, participants who followed a night of drinking with a gut-busting breakfast reported feeling slightly better than their cohorts, but only slightly.

And besides, there are other, more effective things you can eat. For example, eggs, which contain cysteine, a substance that helps you metabolize some of the harmful chemicals that’ve built up in your body. And some animal research suggests that vitamin C can help the body process alcohol more efficiently, so a glass of fruit juice isn’t a bad idea. (Though be careful with this one — citrus can irritate the stomach, so if yours is acting up, best to find an alternative to OJ.) Also try to get in a serving of carbs to get your blood sugar back up — it’s likely low after a night of drinking — and a banana, as its high potassium content will help with dehydration.

Which brings us to the elephant in the room: coffee. I am so deeply sorry to tell you that coffee may do more harm than good, with its dehydrating effect outweighing any pick-me-up it may provide. Have a cup if you must — if you get headaches from caffeine withdrawal, there’s no need to punish yourself any further — but try to limit it to just one. And balance it out with an extra glass of water afterward.

Listen to your body when planning your to-do list.

This goes without saying, but: Don’t slack on things that need to get done today. Don’t skip meetings, don’t blow deadlines, don’t do anything else that would call attention to your current sorry state.

After the essentials, though, the most important thing on your agenda today is making sure you don’t vomit in anyone’s desk trash can. It’s up to you here to figure out the best way to make that happen: If you find that focusing on work takes your mind off your misery, throw yourself into a project; if interacting with your co-workers or tackling a demanding project is giving you a much-needed energy boost, full speed ahead.

If, on the other hand, it’s taking everything you have to hold your hands above your keyboard, maybe today is the day to catch up on gentler, more low-effort tasks, like answering emails and scheduling future meetings. Be kind to yourself: If that phone call doesn’t need to happen today, set it up for another day when your head isn’t pounding and your mouth doesn’t feel like it’s full of cotton.

Stay strong.

Keep reminding yourself: You’ve made it through worse. You can get through this day. And with any luck, scientists will perfect hangover-free alcohol soon enough.

How to Make It Through Work With a Hangover