After a boozy night out, waking up to a world of shrieking alarm clocks, slamming doors, and any noise above a whisper can seem like a cruel punishment for not drinking more responsibly. However tempting it may be to walk around with your hands over your ears until that awful hangover dissipates, there’s some research to suggest that silence isn’t necessarily the best soundtrack for the morning after. Just as music has the power to elicit emotion, certain types of songs can also alleviate the symptoms of that special headache.
Music is no substitute for aspirin, but if popping a pill doesn’t do the trick, a curated playlist might help relieve hangover pain a bit more. Research on migraine sufferers, whose ailment comes with similar symptoms to a hangover headache, indicates that pleasant music can serve as effective pain relief. The exact definition of pain relief depends on who's listening; certain study participants reported an abatement of their symptoms after listening to dubstep, electronic dance music, and heavy metal, but these corresponded strongly with their personal preferences in music. In other words, while a metalhead might consider Black Sabbath soothing, those whose musical tastes skew elsewhere shouldn’t try to find solace in screamo. In general, classical music seems to be a safe bet.
If time and scheduling allow it, another method of relieving a hangover is simply to sleep it off—and music can help there, too. Slow, relaxing music is best, naturally. However, if the overwhelming urge to throw up is getting in the way of that much-needed rest, a well-chosen song can help as well. Research from University of Edinburgh, published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, suggests that a listener’s “preferred” music can relieve nausea in addition to all those other nasty symptoms, where “preferred” indicates “that which is chosen by the participant.” [PDF]
Subjects set their own soundtracks from “a wide range of genre, tempo, and structure,” and yet the majority of them indicated a decrease in pain when listening to their music as opposed to other acoustic stimuli.
The final pro of putting on a hangover playlist is simply that music is a nice distraction from everything else (e.g. nausea and regrets). Familiarity is best—music associated with positive memories would have a stronger effect on “the ability to drown out and displace the pain loop,” according to Dr. Lynn Webster, former president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine.
Of course, this hangover advice comes with some caveats: A musical remedy will prove most effective to those who already consider themselves musically inclined, and less so for those who might be indifferent to music on an average day. Putting on a playlist might not be the single magical “cure” to a raging hangover, but it won’t hurt to try. If the best remedy for the headache is time, then at least the music will be a better companion than that awful ringing in your ears.