Before we dive into the coping mechanisms, let's explore why alcohol can cause our heart rate to go into overdrive in the first place.
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, which means it slows brain activity, so does alcohol slow heart rate as well? No! Rather, alcohol has a stimulant effect on the heart, leading to an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. There are a few reasons for this:
- Sympathetic stimulation. Alcohol consumption triggers the release of stress hormones such as adrenaline, which activates the sympathetic nervous system. This system is responsible for the "fight or flight" response, which increases heart rate, blood pressure, and overall alertness.
- Vasodilation. Alcohol acts as a vasodilator, widening the blood vessels and allowing more blood to flow through. This initially gives us a warm sensation, but it also results in a drop in blood pressure. In response, our heart compensates by beating faster to maintain adequate blood circulation.
- Dehydration. Alcohol has diuretic properties, so it increases urine production, leading to dehydration. Dehydration causes the blood to become thicker, which puts additional strain on the heart, leading to an increased heart rate.
- Disrupted heart rhythm. Excessive alcohol consumption disrupts the electrical signals that regulate the heart's rhythm. This can result in irregular heartbeats, such as atrial fibrillation, which happens when the heart beats irregularly and often faster than normal.
It's important to note that individual responses to alcohol can vary, and factors such as the type and amount of alcohol consumed, body weight, tolerance, and overall health can influence the extent of the heart rate increase.
How To Slow Heart Rate After Drinking Alcohol
Heart palpitations after drinking can certainly be bothersome. It’s equally frustrating when we wake up with our heart racing. Thankfully, there are several natural ways to slow our heart rate after drinking alcohol. Let’s explore a few of them.
Slowing Heart Rate With Hydration
Alcohol’s diuretic properties can leave us parched, not only resulting in a faster heart rate, but also potentially affecting our kidneys.
Several research studies have found that people who consumed water alongside their alcoholic beverages experienced a lower increase in heart rate compared to the group that didn't consume water. This suggests that staying hydrated while drinking alcohol mitigates the heart rate increase commonly associated with alcohol consumption.
Why does this work? Water acts as a diluent, which means it can dilute the concentration of alcohol in our bloodstream. When our blood alcohol concentration is lower, its stimulant effect on the heart diminishes, resulting in a less pronounced increase in heart rate.
To keep your heart rate in check, sip on water throughout the night. Aim to drink a glass of water for every alcoholic beverage consumed.
Slowing Heart Rate Through Breathing
Scientists have also found that engaging in slow, deep breaths activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for promoting relaxation and lowering heart rate.
The parasympathetic nervous system is often referred to as the "rest and digest" system, counteracting the "fight or flight" response of the sympathetic nervous system. Slow, deep breaths stimulate the vagus nerve — a major component of the parasympathetic nervous system — decreasing heart rate and promoting a sense of calm.
Consciously taking slow breaths activates our body’s relaxation response, which counters alcohol’s stimulant effect on the heart rate. This rhythmic breathing pattern helps regulate our heart rate and induce a state of relaxation.
To practice, take a moment to inhale deeply through your nose, hold your breath for a few seconds, and then exhale slowly through your mouth. Repeat this process for a few minutes, focusing on the rhythm of your breath.
Slowing Heart Rate With Light Exercise
Evidence suggests that going for a gentle stroll or doing some light stretching relaxes our body and reduces our heart rate. Exercise releases endorphins, which promote a sense of calm and well-being. Furthermore, when we are in this calm state, the parasympathetic nervous system takes over, naturally bringing our heart rate down.
Just remember, vigorous physical activity might not be the best idea when we’ve had a few drinks, as it can put additional strain on our heart. Avoid running, jumping jacks, or any other exercise that increases heart rate.
Slowing Heart Rate With Mindfulness
Engaging in mindfulness or meditation techniques has been proven to slow our heart rate and promote relaxation. These activities bring us back to the present moment, allowing us to ground in with our bodies. When we induce a state of inner peace, we slow our heart rate by taking our bodies out of the “fight or flight” response.
Find a quiet space, sit comfortably, and focus on your breath or repeat a calming mantra. Allow yourself to let go of stress and tension.
Alcohol and Heart Rate: The Takeaways
We all love a good time, but it's essential to take care of our bodies, including our hearts. Slowing your heart rate after a night of indulgence is perfectly possible! By staying hydrated, practicing deep breathing exercises, engaging in light exercise, meditating, and using cooling techniques, you can help your heart find its rhythm again. Now you know how to slow your heart rate after drinking alcohol!
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