I imagine it would be difficult to find a person who doesn’t know that it’s important to “drink enough water”. We’ve heard it, we likely believe it, we understand that our body is made of ~60%…but do we really know what a difference it makes to the actual functioning of our brain?
Truth is, it’s an invaluable tool in our emotional well-being and could be considered a built-in component of the PLEASE skills.
Our brain’s a pretty amazing place; the amount of work going on in there at all times is literally mind-boggling. In fact, the amount of energy used by our brain is twice the amount required by other cells in our body, and water is the substance best able to provide that energy effectively and efficiently to those cells.
When it’s fully hydrated, our brain’s water content is around 85%. However, even a loss of hydration by 1% can have a significant impact, decreasing cognitive function by as much as 5%. Essentially, dehydration makes our brain sluggish, which can make us more susceptible to symptoms of depression, anxiety, headaches, focus and concentration issues, brain fog, mood swings, fatigue, sleep issues, and a lack of mental clarity and acuity.
Not only do the messages flow more smoothly within our brain when it’s adequately watered, we also feel less confused, more alert and have much better memory recall. With chronic dehydration, our electrolyte balance is impacted, and research finds that low sodium levels in particular have profound effects on memory and may be one of the contributors to memory loss in seniors.
A 2012 study by a group of researchers at the University of Connecticut, found that healthy young women experiencing dehydration showed a measurable increase in mood swings. In contrast, drinking adequate water can help promote a sense of calm and tends to give our low moods a lift.
Tired? Hungry? Thirsty?
Have you ever been confused about whether you’re hungry or thirsty? One of the things I hear most often from my clients is that they don’t really feel thirsty, and are therefore only drinking a cup or two of water / day. In reality, when we don’t drink enough water, our thirst sensors actually go offline. When our signaling system becomes that disconnected, we often interpret our need for water as a need for food….or a nap. This makes a ton of sense when we understand that these three basic needs – sleep, hunger, thirst – are all regulated next to each other in our hypothalamus. So when one need isn’t being met, the other two will also feel out of whack! When we start drinking more water, we become much more aware of when we’re actually feeling thirsty. In a true sense, water actually helps ‘clarify’ what we really need.
Start gradually….take an assessment of how much you’re currently drinking, and go forward from there. The average woman needs about 2.3 quarts of water per day; men need more. That means 8 cups / day – minimally! But if you sweat easily or often, you need to guzzle more. You should also pour it on when the temperature rises – an extra ounce of water for every degree over 64. Flying the friendly skies? Add at least 1 pint (2 cups) of water for each hour in the air.
Try drinking 8-16 ounces of water first thing in the morning, even before you pour a cup of coffee. Take your vitamins or meds with a glass of water. Chase your toothbrushing with another. Then keep a filled-up water bottle within reach all day. Know how you like it: cold, room temp, in a favorite glass, with a straw, with lemon or a splash of juice….you make the call.
Increasing from 4 to 8 cups in one day may be a little taxing on your body! Add 4-8 ounces every 2-3 days. Your body will adapt! Keeping a tally of your water intake serves as a helpful reminder & reinforces your positive changes.
Remember, however, that beverages with caffeine and alcohol are diuretics – a term that means they draw extra fluids out of your body to produce more urine. A German study revealed that adults who drank six cups of coffee a day lost 2.7 percent of their total body water, enough to cause chronic mild dehydration.
So one of the most accessible and powerful tools in your emotional regulation toolbox is actually something that has no shape, color or flavor. The next time you need some help deciding what you need or how to cope, try reaching for a nice, tall glass of water as your first step!