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The Grey Cup in Regina is over. You could tell the day after the game by the number of people wandering around with dazed expressions and bags under their eyes…which inspired me to write this week about two souvenirs of the festivities almost everyone picked up: fatigue and/or a hangover.

Fatigue is characterized by an inability to perform tasks as well as usual, and it comes in many different types. There’s muscle fatigue: hard use of muscles results in a build-up of lactic acid and a familiar aching feeling that eventually becomes pain and results in an inability of the muscles to perform as you’d like them to. Mental fatigue results from hard concentration over long periods of time; eventually it becomes difficult to concentrate at all. Eyes can become fatigued as well, usually due to irritation from smoke, wind (ask the people at Taylor Field), or staring at a computer screen too long.

When we say we feel “tired,” we’re usually complaining of a combination of various sorts of fatigue. The three examples above, taken together, would make anyone feel like curling up under a blanket somewhere.

A symptom of fatigue is yawning, a reflex action which isn’t completely understood, but is generally thought to be the body’s reaction to a build-up of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream, which results from our breathing slower than we should–because our bodies need rest. Yawning is thought to bring in extra oxygen. As well, the stretching that accompanies it improves circulation and therefore also supplies an extra jolt of oxygen to your tired muscles and brain.

Everyone’s metabolism rises and falls over a regular cycle, called a “circadian” cycle, which is roughly synchronized to day and night. Part of this cycle is the release of a hormone called melatonin by the tiny pineal gland, deep within the brain. Recent studies indicate that melatonin may be the long-sought “sleep hormone,” which drives us into sleep. Large doses of it given to volunteers made them go to sleep faster than a control group did. The body produces 10 times as much melatonin at night as it does during daylight hours, which could explain why we begin to feel sleepy at night.

Your circadian rhythms can be disrupted or even re-set, a process shift workers have to go through in order to stay awake at night. Even so, for most people, it’s not all that easy. We’re designed to be diurnal creatures, not nocturnal (downtown Regina over the weekend notwithstanding).

Melatonin may or may not be what brings on sleep, but there’s little doubt that it’s alcohol that brings on another symptom of excessive partying, the hangover. Dizziness, nausea, a headache, thirst…the symptoms of a hangover arise from one simple cause: too much intake of alcohol over too short a period.

Your body metabolizes alcohol at a set rate of about 1/3 ounce per hour…and nothing you do speeds that up at all. Consuming large quantities of alcohol means that in the morning when you wake up, there’s still lots of alcohol in your bloodstream (hence the dizziness and nausea). In addition, the metabolizing of alcohol produces lactic acid, the same substance that makes your muscles ache when you exercise hard, which contributes to your aches and pains.

Folklore to the contrary, nothing cures a hangover but time. Aspirin may alleviate the symptoms, but that’s all. Some of the other cures–raw eggs or what-have-you–are absolutely useless (not to mention disgusting). Exercise may take your mind off things, but it doesn’t speed your recovery. Same with food. (A big meal won’t “soak up the alcohol” either before, after or during drinking.) Nor can you avoid a hangover by “sobering up” before going to bed, for the same reasons: the cures don’t work. Put a drunk in a cold shower and give him lots of coffee, and you know what you get? A wide-awake drunk.

The best way to avoid a hangover is to drink moderately–or, better yet, not at all. The best way to avoid fatigue is to go to bed at a reasonable hour and get a good night’s sleep.

Since one or both of these rules was broken by almost everyone in Regina last week, this admonition is too little, too late, I fear. But the Grey Cup was such a success I doubt anyone cares.

After all, the yawning and the hangovers are already gone: the memories will last forever.

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