You’ve probably heard that you should drink at least eight glasses of water every day. Do you? Most people don’t, and a lot of people shake off their need for hydration because they don’t see any immediate side effects after going a few hours without a drink. That’s because the initial effects of dehydration can’t really be felt physically – but that doesn’t mean it’s not doing any damage.
But what if we told you that dehydration can have acute effects? These effects target your cognitive abilities more than your body. Do you have issues concentrating and maintaining focus at school, at work, or even among friends? Have you ever considered that perhaps this was caused by dehydration? Today, we’re going to explain how dehydration can have a detrimental effect on your mindstate and mental power.
How does dehydration affect my brain?
You might have been told once or twice when complaining of a headache as a kid: “Drink some water!” A headache is definitely a sign of dehydration, but the problems of dehydration can go quite a bit further than an aching skull.
It’s not hard to fathom the reasoning behind this. The brain is made up of mostly water – some 80 percent of it. This fluid is required for your neurons to fire, so your brain can transmit messages and let you observe through your senses, process thoughts, recall information, etc.
If your brain starts to dry out, then there won’t be a medium for it to transmit messages. Even mild dehydration can make the brain function up to 15% slower. By the time you feel thirsty, you’re already slightly dehydrated, so make sure you keep drinking water throughout the day!
If you don’t, your brain’s not going to be happy.
- Water helps your body and brain eliminate waste material. Without enough water, you may be unable to effectively get rid of toxins and wastes that could, in essence, “clog” your brain’s communication pathways.
- Water keeps the brain from overheating. While this would only happen as a result of serious dehydration, it can cause permanent damage.
- Water helps your cells retain their normal membranes which are made to transmit messages or nutrients. Membranes that are too thick or too thin can interfere with message transmission.
Another problem with dehydration is that it can become increasingly more difficult to rehydrate yourself as you get more and more dehydrated. If you’re thirsty, you might already be functioning at 10% less than optimal brain power. This deficit may cause you to overlook getting a glass of water right away, so by the time you do drink something, you may be looking at 15% cognitive decline. Drinking a glass of water then might only bring you back up to a 10% decline, which means you’re still dehydrated.
Dehydration also leads to physical symptoms such as fatigue and dizziness. These symptoms can make it seem like a much better idea to just sit down or even take a nap before getting some water. When you next get up, you’ll be significantly more dehydrated. Serious dehydration can make you more susceptible to other temperature-related problems, such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion, or sunstroke.
I don’t feel dumb. How else can I know if I’m dehydrated?
It’s not uncommon for people, particularly children attending school, to live their lives dehydrated while they think they’re drinking enough water. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey observed that only 15% of American schoolkids are getting enough water. This means that they’re accustomed to the cognitive deficit caused by dehydration, and don’t know that they’re not functioning at top speed.
If you or your child regularly experiences any of the following symptoms, there’s a significant chance that they’re suffering from chronic dehydration.
- dry mouth or sticky mouth; “spider-spit”
- dizziness or loss of balance
- extreme tiredness or lack of motivation
If you have spent months or years slightly dehydrated, finally deciding to take the plunge and drink enough water can bring immense benefits. A friend of mine drank nothing but cola for three years. One morning, he sporadically drank four glasses of water instead of his normal glass of cola. He was rocket-propelled into a euphoric – almost manic – state with tons of energy and a crystal-clear train of thought.
The best way to prevent dehydration is, of course, to drink water. It’s much better to drink a glass of water every hour or two than it is to catch yourself dehydrated and drink a liter at a time. This thins your blood too much and may cause minor issues. Remember, the goal is to never get dehydrated, and that means you should never feel thirsty.
- Keep a water bottle with you in class and drain it over the course of a lecture.
- Any time you walk past a water fountain at school, take a drink. Whenever you pass through your kitchen at home, grab a glass.
- Remember that you’re supposed to drink 6–8 glasses of water a day as a general rule. If you’re an active person, or if it’s summer and you’re sweating, 6–8 glasses might start to seem pretty insubstantial. Make sure to drink a lot of extra water if you’re exerting yourself to the point of perspiring.
Another important factor in staying hydrated is making sure you get all your electrolytes. You can do this by drinking Gatorade or other sports drinks, but your best bet is to eat a healthy diet. Calcium, magnesium, phosphate, sodium, and chloride are the main electrolytes, so as long as you eat foods rich in these nutrients, you should be able to maintain optimal hydration.
Dehydration is a dangerous and potentially fatal condition that a lot of people leave untreated. Most people think that they’re hydrated when they’re not, and this can cause some serious cognitive deficits.
The most important thing to do to avoid dehydration is to drink water at least every hour. You don’t want to drink too much, but you want to maintain a healthy level of hydration in your body. If you feel thirsty, then you’ve already gotten dehydrated!