Staying hydrated is critical for many functions, from keeping your body temperature regulated and organs functioning properly to preventing infections and keeping your joints lubricated. But, did you know that drinking enough water is also important for improving your sleep and your mood?
Throughout the day, we are constantly losing water and electrolytes through breathing, sweating, urinating, and having bowel movements. If more water is moving out of our body's cells then into them, dehydration occurs. With dehydration comes the loss of electrolytes that are critical to keeping our cells functioning and providing energy, such as potassium and sodium. Even a mild level of dehydration can leave you feeling exhausted and lethargic.
Not drinking enough water could quickly result in constipation, and might even trigger migraines in those predisposed to them. Plus, since dehydration is often mistaken for hunger, it could also lead to overeating and weight gain.
How do you know if you're drinking enough water to stay adequately hydrated? The signs of dehydration vary by age, but can include:
- Thirst. This is the most obvious sign of mild dehydration, and if you are thirsty you aren't drinking enough water.
- Dark or brightly colored urine. In a well-hydrated person, urine should be nearly colorless or just have a pale yellow color. Darker or brightly colored urine indicates dehydration.
- Infrequent urination. In addition to color, urinating infrequently is a sign of dehydration. The need to urinate regularly throughout the day is generally a good sign that you are drinking enough water.
- Fatigue, dizziness and confusion. In even mild cases of dehydration, cognition and energy levels are quickly impacted.
- Dry mouth or cough.
- Flushed skin, swollen feet, or muscle cramps.
- Heat intolerance or chills.
- Feeling cranky or anxious.
The good news is that for mild cases of dehydration, symptoms can improve in as little as five minutes after drinking water. Of course, the goal is to avoid any episodes of dehydration by drinking enough water every day to maintain your entire health system and stay focused and energized.
How much water do you need to drink every day? That depends on your age, weight, height, activity level, and even the climate you're in. Plus, if you have chronic health issues such as heart disease, diabetes or cystic fibrosis, your needs may vary. But in general, the standard advice of 8 – 10 glasses of water per day is a good starting point. Of course, you must consume extra water when exercising, sweating, or spending time out in the sun. Watch your urine output and color closely, as they are good indicators of whether or not you are drinking enough. And, never rely on thirst to tell you when to drink: as already stated, if you are feeling thirsty you are already dehydrated. Although water is the best form of hydration most of the time, you may want to consider supplementing with a sports drink if you are exercising intensely or out in the sun for more than a few hours. These drinks not only replace fluid, but also provide much needed electrolytes, like sodium and potassium, that help prevent cramping and weakness.
Having trouble getting enough water in? Try a few of these tips:
- Carry a water bottle with you everywhere, and keep it filled.
- Add a bit of flavor to make your water more palatable. A wedge of lemon or lime, a few cucumber slices, or some fresh mint or basil is a refreshing and delicious way to enjoy more water.
- Eat foods that are high in water content, such as soups, fruits, and many vegetables.
- Drink a glass of water immediately when you wake up to start the day off right.
- Track your water intake on your phone and set reminders every hour to drink some.
If getting enough water is still a challenge, keep in mind the many benefits you'll enjoy from staying well hydrated. According to the National Council on Aging and other health organizations, the reasons to make hydration a non-negotiable priority every day include:
- Improved brain performance. Losing just 2% of our body's fluid can affect memory, mood, concentration and reaction time. Drinking more water can help stabilize emotions and combat anxiety.
- Improved digestion. Your body needs water in order to digest food properly. Constipation, gas, bloating, heartburn and other digestive issues can often be aided by drinking more water.
- Increased energy. Dehydration slows down circulation and affects the flow of oxygen to your brain. The lack of fluids can also cause your heart to work harder to pump oxygen through your body, which can make you feel sluggish, tired, and less focused.
- Weight loss/management. Drinking enough water can help you feel full and satisfied between meals, reduce snacking, and even help boost your metabolism.
- Decreased joint pain. The cartilage in our joints contains a whopping 80% water, so helping them stay well-lubricated with enough water can help reduce friction.
- Better temperature regulation. Drinking enough water helps you produce sweat when you’re overheated, which in turn cools your body down.
- Prevent kidney stones. Kidney stones develop when clumps of mineral crystals form in the urinary tract. Drinking enough water helps dilute the concentration of minerals and makes the formation of stones less likely.
- Healthier heart. Your blood is made up largely of water, and when you don't drink enough it can cause an imbalance of electrolytes that are needed to keep your heart functioning properly.
- Improved detoxification. Drinking enough water helps ensure that your body's detoxification systems are working properly, and removing waste and harmful substances through urination, breathing, perspiration, and bowel movements.
- Fewer headaches. Even mild dehydration can cause the brain to contract from the skull, leading to headaches or migraines. Drinking enough water can help keep head pain at bay.
This article first appeared in the April 2023 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.