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Does Sleeping Off a Hangover — or Cold, or Shitty Day — Really Work?

Although a good night’s sleep often helps, solving most of your problems require more effort than just hitting the sack

The most common piece of seemingly useless advice everyone receives is to “sleep it off.” Obliterated on booze and got an early flight? Sleep it off. Sick as a dog? Sleep it off. So frustrated at work you almost rage-quit this afternoon? Yeah, sleep that off, too.

But can a snooze really solve problems of this magnitude? We talked to Raj Dasgupta, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California’s Pulmonary/Critical Care/Sleep Medicine division and a fellow at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, about the effectiveness of using sleep to fix ourselves up. Here’s what he had to say about the following scenarios…

Sleeping Off a Meal: Bad Idea

Stuffing your face is a surefire way to start feeling sleepy, since your body uses a lot of energy to break down the all-you-can-eat buffet punishing your stomach. This doesn’t make food an effective sleep aid, however. “When you want to get a good night’s sleep, don’t eat or drink late,” says Dasgupta. “When we talk about eating heavy meals in general, you’re putting yourself at a high risk for heartburn, with multiple arousals during the night. There are consequences for this: It will prevent you from going into the deeper stages of sleep, like N3 — also known as slow-wave sleep — and REM sleep. These are the stages that are essential to aid in memory, cognition and rejuvenation of the body and mind.”

If you have to sleep off a heavy meal because you ate late, Dasgupta suggests trying to sleep on the left side of your body. “This puts the stomach below the level of the esophagus,” he explains. “By using gravity, there’s a pooling of the stomach acid below the entrance of the esophagus.” Since your stomach acid is being kept where it belongs — i.e., in your stomach, rather than seeping into your esophagus — you’ll skip the heartburn altogether.

Sleeping Off a Bender: Pretty Good Idea

According to Dasgupta, sleeping helps you get over your drunkenness because it gives your liver a chance to scrub your system of all that booze. “You need time to let your liver break down the alcohol,” he says. “Sleeping does help out in that it gives your liver time to do its job, but there’s multiple awakenings throughout the night, so you’re not getting good, refreshing sleep.” In other words, you’ll wake up feeling more sober, but you won’t wake up feeling good. Which brings us to…

Illustration by Dave van Patten

Sleeping Off a Hangover: Okay-ish Idea

Alcohol acts as a diuretic, so hangover sleep will often be interrupted by the need to use the bathroom, leaving you unrested and dehydrated. Instead of heading back to bed for a nap(s), it’s more useful to drink lots of water and, if possible, eat something containing thiamine (better known as vitamin B1). “There are electrolyte imbalances, low blood sugar and dehydration,” Dasgupta says of what’s causing your hangover symptoms. “In order for the liver to do its job, essential enzymes such as thiamine are needed to metabolize the alcohol.” You can find thiamine in eggs, beef and oranges, so if you can stomach a plate of steak and eggs with orange juice (and a few glasses of water) before you snooze, you’ll sleep a lot better.

Sleeping Off a Cold: Great Idea

Sleep is a key ingredient to fighting sickness, as it gives your body time to fight the infection that’s turning your body into a mucous-coated battlefield. Since time is the only real cure for the common cold, the more rest you can get, the quicker you’ll recover. Dasgupta also notes that a regular lack of sleep can make you sick more often. “Sleep deprivation decreases your immune system,” he says. “When you have poor sleep habits, how many times have you felt that little tickle in the back of your throat? It correlates.”

Sleeping Off a Bad Day: Good Idea, Eventually

After a crappy day at work, crawling defeatedly into bed sometimes seems like the only sane thing to do. But you shouldn’t do it right away. “Sleep will definitely help you out when you have a bad day, but you have to use sleep correctly,” advises Dasgupta. “Don’t keep thinking about your day in the bed itself. Your bed is only meant for one thing: Sleeping. If you go to bed early because you had a bad day, but then you’re thinking about it in bed for 30 or 40 minutes, you need to go do something non-stimulating in a dim light [reading, for example].”

Once you do get to sleep, however, that rest can help you avoid feeling bad tomorrow. “Sleep is going to give you more energy for the next day. It also helps out with your mood and depression, and helps you to be less irritable and think more clearly,” says Dasgupta. “If you have a tough day, you want to get that sleep so you can rebound the next day and impress your boss by making up for the day before.”