Why does the room spin after a night of heavy drinking?
Anyone who has ever gone overboard during a night out knows the nightmarish feeling of laying down and watching the room spin violently. It’s awful.
I used to spend many a night burying my head under a pillow willing myself the ability to see straight. It didn’t work. Mostly I just ran back and forth to the bathroom until the spinning stopped enough that I could reasonably pass out.
But why does it happen?
The Science Behind Post-Drinking Spins
The technical term for what you are experiencing is vertigo. You may also experience light-headedness, loss of balance, difficulty walking, nausea, and vomiting.
It has to do with alcohol’s effect on your ears.
The inner ear system plays an integral role in our sense of balance. Alcohol specifically affects three, fluid-filled semicircular canals. The fluid is called endolymph. Inside these canals, we also have a gelatinous structure called the cupula and tiny, hair-like cells called stereocilia.
Incredibly, these tiny little parts play a big role in our ability to get around. Normally, when we move around, the endolymph moves which alters the shape of the cupula, which in turn bends the stereocilia.
When the stereocilia bend, they send an electric signal to our brains to help make sense of the movement, helping us to feel balanced.
Alcohol disrupts that delicate system.
Alcohol thins your blood. Thinned blood creates a difference in density between the cupula and endolymph which changes the structure of the cupula. This, in turn, bends the stereocilia which send signals to your brain that say, “Hey we’re rotating!”
Except you’re not.
This creates the spinning effect you get when you look up at the ceiling and start questioning your life choices.
Oh, and closing your eyes only makes it worse. Without those visual clues to help your brain realize that the world is in fact, not spinning a mile a minute, the alcohol spins get worse.
What can you do to stop the alcohol spins after a night of heavy drinking?
Let me say that again.
Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada.
You may read on the internet that you can ground yourself by placing a foot on the floor and focus on an immobile object, but it doesn’t really work. At least, not in any significant way.
Vomiting may help lessen the duration of your spins by eliminating the toxins from alcohol sitting in your stomach which has yet to be absorbed into your bloodstream. However, by the time the spins have started, the bulk of the damage has been done.
Another suggestion is watching TV to give your eyes (and brain) enough visual stimulation to combat vertigo. Again, there is no evidence this makes a huge difference.
Ultimately, once you’ve reach spin levels of heavy drinking, the only way out is through. You have to let your body do its thing until it passes.
Yikes! So how can you prevent the spins?
Don’t drink heavily.
The only way to avoid getting the spins is to monitor your alcohol intake and not overdo it. Remember that binge drinking is considered 4+ drinks on a single occasion for women, and 5+ drinks on a single occasion for men.
If you want to avoid the spins, you need to avoid meeting and surpassing those thresholds.
Limit your alcohol intake to moderate levels, or quit drinking altogether.