Whether it's a heavily hot-sauced breakfast, a long video game session or drowning one's sorrows with the hair of the dog that bit them, every dedicated drinker has their own hangover remedy. No scientific studies have proven any of these methods actually work beyond their ability to distract ourselves from the devilish drilling in our skull, and yet people still cling to them dogmatically.
Numerous publications have offered lists of the best hangover-curing music. However, none offers any methodology for the choices about what kind of music makes for good relief. Part of the reason is that no psychological studies have actually rounded up a bunch of hungover people and hooked them up to headsets to track their physiological reactions, according to the experts Mic surveyed. Still, a host of related research regarding music's therapeutic effects suggests it could actually offer a very intriguing form of hangover relief.
"We have good proof that music works for pain of any kind," Dr. Alexander Mauskop, director and founder of the New York Headache Center, told Mic. "There is no reason to think that hangovers would be any different. It's not as powerful as morphine, but it might be as good as Tylenol."
What follows is a breakdown of some of the research regarding the kinds of music that have been proven to offer the best pain relief, ending with a suggested playlist of songs that may help ease the horror of the morning after.
Relieving pain through distraction
Numerous studies have elucidated that music listening can offer some significant pain relief, in even the most dire circumstances. Music can soothe chronic pain and postsurgical trauma. Surprisingly, music has also proven to help with migraines and tension headaches, which hangovers resemble.
"I would think of a hangover as similar to migraines in the sense that you don't want anything too sharp, too loud," Dr. Lynn Webster, past president of American Academy of Pain Medicine and Vice President of Scientific Affairs for PRA Health Sciences, told Mic. "But if it can distract you, it theoretically is going to offer you some relief."
He underlined again that there's no hard data on the effects of music on hangover relief, but still spoke of music as a potentially powerful pain reliever, especially for musicians. "People who really likes music or like certain types of music or musicians, if they were in pain and they could get access to that type of music, there would be a memory that they would recruit and impart experience," Webster said. "Both of those would have an additive effect on their ability to displace and drown out the pain loop they're experiencing."
Something familiar, simple and stripped down, like a cut off Sufjan Stevens' latest album or the single chord experimentations of Yo La Tengo's "Ohm," might be what the doctor ordered.
Reducing nausea and improving mood
Hangovers, however, do not come with only pain, but also a general lethargy, misery and often a good amount of nausea. Thankfully, research suggests music listening to the songs one loves help relieve nausea. Numerous studies assert that music can improve one's mood, reduce stress and lower anxiety, which can in turn lower pain.
A 2013 study out of the University of Missouri suggests that upbeat, cheerful music of composers like Aaron Copland is more effective at improving mood than somber, dissonant music of composers like Igor Stravinsky. Interestingly enough, however, the listener also has to actively want to improve their mood in order to achieve any effects.
Helping one sleep
The two most effective "cures" for a hangover science has come up with are brutally obvious: don't drink so much and sleep more. Both are easier said than done at times.
After the hangover's sludgy feeling has settled in, it can be extremely difficult to fall back to sleep. Music can likely help. A 2008 study found listening to slow (60 to 80 beats per minute) classical music helped students improve sleep quality while also reducing depressive symptoms. Other studies have found listening to slow, relaxing music can improve perceived sleep quality and shorten the time it takes to fall asleep by encouraging relaxation and distraction from thoughts.
"Music that is designed to relax us does this through repetition of rhythms, music phrases, slow tempo and low tones," Lyz Cooper founder of the British Academy of Sound Therapy told Today. "Music that has positive memory association can also help, so music that reminds us of a relaxed and happy time."
One doesn't have to go full trance music — though for reference, Cooper named Marconi Union's "Weightless" as the most relaxing song ever. Something slow and ethereal, like Brian Eno's Ambient 1: Music for Airports should do just fine. Ed Sheeran, the most slept-to artist on Spotify, is always a decent choice.
If one does not have all the time in the world to sleep and lay around, music can still help one work up the motivation to face the day, despite the pain. When one is hungover their body produces an excess of pro-inflammatory cytokines, proteins that help stimulate one's immune system but also produce some of a hangover's more pernicious cognitive effects, such as memory impairment and mood changes. Studies have shown that a potent musical listening experience can actually relax the body's production of cytokines.
Studies out of Sunway University College in Malaysia found that uptempo music around 120 BPMs can also help improve focus and memory.
So a prescription for music hangover relief really takes one of two directions: either soothing one towards sleep or stimulating one back to consciousness.
Below are two suggested playlists for each, incorporating the songs suggested above. Give a listen, experiment and consider swapping in some favorite soothing songs to stimulate those vivifying positive memories of times when you weren't hungover.