Health

13 Things That Can Make You Feel Hungover Besides Alcohol

Caffeine withdrawal, dehydration, and other issues that don’t come from a night out.

Why do you feel hungover if you didn't drink alcohol? Doctors explain.
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It’s not uncommon to wake up with a hangover after a night of drinking. But if you wake up with a pounding headache, nausea, and feelings of dehydration — despite never having a drop of alcohol the night before — another medical issue may be to blame. Yep, it's possible to feel hungover without drinking, largely because hangover symptoms are common in a lot of other conditions.

What happens to your body when you're hungover is a bit complicated. You could experience anything from nausea, because of how alcohol triggers your empty stomach lining, to headaches caused by dehydration, to anxiety from a chemical compound your body produces called acetaldehyde. But without alcohol in the mix, sometimes these symptoms still happen. Think about the headache and brain fog you get the day after you haven't really slept, or that upset-tummy feeling from eating a questionable piece of cheese.

“Common hangover symptoms include general symptoms such as fatigue, thirst, and aches; and more specific symptoms such as headache, nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, and irritability,” physician Dr. Beth Ricanati, M.D. tells Bustle. If you feel like this despite abstaining from alcohol, it’ll be worth it to do some investigating to figure out why you feel bad.

“There are some common conditions that can mimic a hangover feeling, but are actually worth consulting your physician about as they may need more medical attention,” Ricanati says. Others should go away with time — just like a hangover. Read on below for the 13 most common reasons why you feel hungover if you didn’t drink.

1

Dehydration

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"Anything that dehydrates the body can potentially cause similar feelings to a hangover," Dr. Greg Burrell, M.D., vice president of clinical product at health care service Carbon Health. For instance, simply forgetting to drink water while exercising can quickly lead to dehydration, says Ricanati, which can cause hangover-like symptoms like headache and fatigue.

Thankfully, it’s easy to feel better with adequate fluid replacement, she says. The general recommended daily water intake is 11.5 cups, or 2.7 liters, to stay properly hydrated. Drink more if you plan on exercising or if you’re sweating a lot on a hot day.

2

Too Much Caffeine

Did you double (or triple) your usual coffee intake for the day? According to Ricanati, over-caffeinating yourself might make you feel “off,” just like a hangover.

A typical cup of coffee contains 70 to 100 mg of caffeine. While there is no specific daily allowance for caffeine, a 2021 study recognizes that up to 400 mg a day is considered safe for people who don’t have health conditions. Any more than that, and you might start to experience other side effects, like increased anxiety.

To stay hydrated and offset any unwanted side effects, Ricanati recommends drinking a glass of water along with your morning cup of coffee.

3

Caffeine Withdrawal

On the flip side, if you recently cut back on your caffeine intake, it’s possible you’ll feel hungover as a result. A 2021 study found that caffeine withdrawal symptoms tend to set in 12 to 24 hours after your last cup, peak around the 20 to 51-hour mark, and may last from two to nine days.

Symptoms include everything from headache, fatigue, and decreased alertness, to depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, and feeling “foggy.” There’s also a risk of irritability, and all of these symptoms can range from mild to severe. Even if you only have one caffeinated beverage a day, going without can trigger withdrawal symptoms.

4

Stomach Viruses

According to Ricanati, dehydration can quickly set in after vomiting or diarrhea, so take note if you’ve recently had a gastrointestinal virus and feel symptoms of a hangover. Try to rehydrate — but, if you can’t keep fluids down, it’ll require a trip to the doctor.

5

Infections

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Any type of infection — from the common cold to a urinary tract infection — can make you feel out of sorts, says Ricanati. Whether you feel achy, tired, or nauseated, she recommends checking in with your physician to figure out what’s going on.

6

Electrolyte Imbalances

A sports drink can save you from a pounding headache after a night of drinking, but that’s not the only reason to seek out a dose of electrolytes. If you have an electrolyte imbalance from exercising a ton or sweating a lot on a hot day, it can mimic the symptoms you might experience the morning after drinking.

"Any alteration in important electrolytes can affect one's mental and physical status, especially with sodium and potassium levels altered," says Dr. Ehsan Ali, M.D., an internal medicine specialist. To keep your body's mineral balance in check, make sure you stay hydrated, especially when working out, and ask your doctor about checking your vitamin and mineral levels if the feeling persists.

7

Sleep Medications & Supplements

It may make sense to take a sleep medication if you struggle to drift off to dreamland, but don’t be surprised if you wake up feeling groggy come morning. "Certain medications taken for sleep can cause next-day sedation or headaches," says Dr. Alex Dimitriu, M.D., a consultation psychiatrist and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine.

This is true for doctor-prescribed sleep medications, over-the-counter sleep aids, and even melatonin supplements. As always, check in with your doctor before trying anything new.

8

Antihistamines

There are many other medications that may lead to unwanted side effects, adds Ricanati, including antihistamines. These medications, which are used to reduce allergy symptoms, have the potential to cause headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, dry mouth, and even nausea and vomiting. Sounds just like a hangover, doesn’t it?

9

Sleep Deprivation

If it’s been a minute since you got a good night’s sleep, pesky hangover symptoms can start to set in. If you’re experiencing sleep deprivation, you’ll most likely feel tired and groggy. But you may also experience more serious side effects like decreased motor ability and loss of coordination. Your mental health can take a dive, too, with the potential for feelings of anxiety and depression.

10

Anemia

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When you have a hangover, you often want to stay in bed all day. And the same can be true if you’re anemic, says registered dietician Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD. She points to a condition called pernicious anemia, which is rooted in a vitamin B12 deficiency. “This is especially true as plant-based diets become more common, which is not a bad thing,” she tells Bustle. “It is just important to know how to eat a balanced, plant-based diet.” If you feel tired all the time for no reason, consider supplementing with this vitamin to improve your energy levels.

11

Migraine

If you get migraines, then you already know they’re way more than just a headache. But if you’ve never experienced one before, you might not be aware of how serious a migraine postdrome can be.

"Migraines, a special class of headaches, have been known to cause lingering hangover-like symptoms even after the migraine is over, known as a postdrome," says Burrell.

If you can trace your symptoms back to a severe headache, then it's possible this is the connection. "Light exercise, maintaining hydration, and avoiding overstimulation may help with this,” Burrell adds.

12

Pregnancy

Pregnancy causes a host of physical changes, including what you probably know as morning sickness. While that all-day nausea and fatigue can feel mighty similar to the morning after a night out, it’s actually caused by hormonal changes.

"A [pregnant] body will preference the baby, meaning that the first nutrients will go there, and the [parent] may end up feeling tired, dehydrated, or ‘hungover’ if [they are] not getting enough of those things," says Burrell.

13

Liver Or Kidney Problems

If you wake up feeling hungover relatively often, it could be a sign that one of your organs isn’t functioning properly. Ali points to liver and kidney problems as possible culprits, which can manifest with “altered physical and mental conditions.” If you experience chronic hangover symptoms, like nausea, fatigue, or even a decrease in your mental sharpness, let a doctor know ASAP.

Studies referenced:

Evans J, Richards JR, Battisti AS. Caffeine. [Updated 2021 Dec 4]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519490/.

Ghanbari I, Taheri H R, Sohrabi M. The Effects of 24-Hour Sleep Deprivation on Cognitive and Motor Skills of Male College Students. Ann Appl Sport Sci. 2019; 7 (1) :27-38.

Hanson JA, Huecker MR. Sleep Deprivation. [Updated 2021 Aug 26]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK547676/.

Sajadi-Ernazarova KR, Anderson J, Dhakal A, et al. Caffeine Withdrawal. [Updated 2021 Nov 23]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430790/

Experts:

Dr. Beth Ricanati, M.D., physician

Dr. Ehsan Ali, M.D., internal medicine specialist

Dr. Alex Dimitriu, M.D., consultation psychiatrist

Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD, registered dietician

Dr. Greg Burrell, M.D., physician

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