Can Music Cure a Hangover?

It's 10am. You're nauseous. Maybe a bit drunk still. Did you really call your ex 27 times last night? Luckily for you, science might be on your side.
27 March 2018, 12:37am
Illustration by Ben Thomson

This article is supported by Spotify, because life (and hangovers) are better with music.

Is there anything worse than coming off the high of a music festival, AKA the best three days of your year, with a sad Sunday night pre-work hangover that totally drains your body of endorphins? Or waking up the morning after a late-night gig with a throbbing head and the awful realisation that you’ve drunkenly committed to attending a brunch taking place in less than 30 minutes? Several studies have shown that listening to music when you’re feeling unwell after a big night can not only have calming and distracting effects, but also potentially reduce nausea and numb headaches.

Before you reach for the jumbo pack of painkillers, give your vital organs a break and consider putting on your favourite album instead—or, might we suggest, a soothing and possibly Enya-heavy Spotify playlist.

“For some people music could be more effective than drugs, although for most, it is best to combine music, if not with drugs, then with natural remedies,” says Dr. Alexander Mauskop, director and founder of the New York Headache Center. “Peppermint is proven to reduce pain, as is taking a magnesium supplement. Drink a cup of coffee, take in a lot of fluids.”

Yep, coffee is always a good one. Also hash browns.

As you might expect, not all music genres have healing properties. But recent research indicates that many different types of music might help alleviate pain, and they’re not necessarily the ones you’d think. Mauskop points to two major studies published in the appropriately-titled academic journal Pain that point to the ability of music to alleviate physical discomfort.

The first study, from 2008, finds that pain is only reduced by “pleasant” music. So when experimenting with musical hangover cures, avoid the noise rock. The second finds that people subjected to a base level of pain, then to either happy or sad music, reported significantly lower pain ratings either way. In other words, you don’t have to listen to a pump up playlist. Which is great news for those of us who like to use our hangovers as an excuse to wallow in bed all day feeling feelings and listening to Sufjan Stevens.

Also, don’t turn up the volume too loud. Mauskop notes that, as might be obvious, unpleasantly loud noise can trigger migraines and tension headaches in many people.

Researchers are still unclear on why music appears to have pain-killing properties, but it would appear music is more than just a distraction from pain—it might be working to actively alleviate it. A 2011 study from the University of Edinburgh concludes that listening to music can reduce the need for painkillers after surgeries, because it soothes patients as well as actually reduces sensations. It takes into account other recent research that has shown music might help reduce blood pressure, pain-related distress, nausea, and vomiting.

These studies indicate that even if you’re not particularly musically gifted—or if your tastes don’t verge much beyond Top 40—the musical hangover cure might still work for you. “Some people are more responsive to music, but not necessarily only those who are musically inclined—you may not have been exposed to a lot of music, but could still respond [to its healing properties],” says Mauskop.

Maybe just give it a go. All you’ve got to lose is the sense that your body is disintegrating, and that you might never feel like a normal functioning human again.

In the future, we might have a clearer understanding of how and why music might be used to alleviate pain—even certain frequencies, for example, have been shown to have beneficial effects on the human brain. A 2015 research paper from the University of California at Berkeley suggests that music might even be an anti-inflammatory. And music, particularly classical music, can definitely help you get to sleep—which, if you’re feeling particularly disgusting, might be the best way to fast forward into a hangover-free future.

When it comes down to it, of course, the best thing about listening to tunes when you’re hungover is the instant mood lift. We all know that music can make us feel better after a bad day at work or a nasty break up, and the burgeoning medical field of music therapy suggests that upbeat music can lift spirits of patients suffering from serious medical illnesses or recovering from traumatic surgeries. So it stands to reason that it can also help lift your spirits after a night on the piss.

This is great news, because when it comes down to it, improving mood is key to getting over a hangover—and maybe even enjoying the opportunity to lie in bed with your laptop and a selection of revolting-but-required snacks while you recover.

We curated a mixtape especially so you can test out the theory for yourself next time you're hungover.

This article is supported by Spotify.