To most of us, being dehydrated means feeling thirsty, having cottonmouth, or feeling dry in general, with dry skin or dry eyes.
Other symptoms attributed to moderate dehydration are headaches, dizziness, fatigue, cool skin, and the inability to pee. Or if you do pee, it’s dark yellow or brown instead of close to clear.
Dehydration is when the body doesn’t have enough water to carry out its normal functions. This occurs when it loses more fluids than it takes in. That’s because the body is constantly using up and losing fluids as we breathe, sweat, etc. The most common causes of dehydration are sweating, diarrhea, and vomiting.
However, there are some effects of dehydration that we typically don’t think of.
“Sometimes we have cravings for foods, particularly for sweets, when we are in fact dehydrated,” explained Dr. Kathryn Boling, a physician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, MD. “Our bodies may make us feel a craving for something that is not actually fluid, and we go ahead and satisfy that craving because we are not getting hydrated.”
Dr. Boling said, “We have some cognitive loss from dehydration, like memory can be affected, or just getting through your day and making decisions that are good.
“If you’re not feeling at your best and feel anxiety, it can make your anxiety worse. If you are feeling pain and are dehydrated, that may make your pain feel worse to you.”
As if that wasn’t enough to encourage you to drink your recommended eight glasses a day, Chris Brantner, a Certified Sleep Science Coach at SleepZoo.com indicated, “While poor hydration obviously affects daytime feel and performance, it’s also important to note that it can also have an adverse effect on your sleep time as well.
“The fact is that dehydration can lead to many sleep issues that can have a negative impact on sleep quality and quantity. For example, not ingesting enough fluids can dry up your nasal passages and lead to snoring at night, which can not only make your sleep worse but also ruin your partner’s sleep. It can also cause leg cramping, which can have a disruptive effect on your sleep.”
Other effects of dehydration
Another unpleasant side effect of dehydration – bad breath, because your mouth is producing less saliva.
In more severe cases, dehydration can cause dizziness, lethargy, dry skin, fever and low blood pressure. Clearly not something to mess around with.
You can get dehydrated pretty quickly if you have a stomach bug or experience a lot of vomiting in a day. This can be particularly hard to rehydrate with you can’t keep anything down.
According to Dr. Bolin, “most of us walk around dehydrated most of the time.”
But why are so many of us dehydrated?
“Most of us are so damn busy all the time. A lot of people limit their intake because they don’t have time during their day to go to the bathroom, or they are thirsty at night, but limit their fluids because they don’t want to wake up five times during the night to pee. People don’t want to take the time to hydrate and get rid of that fluid,” Bolin explained.
Dehydration is nothing to take likely. There are possible long-term effects of not taking in enough fluids on a regular basis, such as kidney stones, tonsil stones, and low blood pressure. People who take diuretics for their medical conditions need to be especially careful to take in the proper amount of fluids.
“Summer is often thought of as the time dehydration is the most dangerous and common,” said Brantner. “After all, it’s hotter and the days are longer, so you sweat more. However, since most people realize this, they tend to compensate with drinking extra water and staying indoors in the AC more. ”
However, it’s easy to get dehydrated in the winter as well.
“If you are out shoveling in the snow out in some big parka you could sweat a lot, get dehydrated and not realize it,” Boling said.
Brantner added, “It’s just as dangerous to get dehydrated during the winter – especially in high altitudes. The dry air can exacerbate fluid loss and make you dehydrated without even realizing it.”
How to avoid the effects of dehydration year-round
“New research has come out to say that men should have 15 cups and women 12-13, but those cups don’t have to all be from a fluid,” Boling explained. “A lot of fluids come from foods like tomatoes or watermelons, a lot of vegetables too. For most people, if we drink 8 cups of fluid in a day and then eat some fruits and vegetables, you will be fine.”
To help get you started in building the habit to drink more water, throughout your day, stay hydrated with these actionable tips.
A quick way to tell if you are dehydrated, as per Bolin – pinch the top of the skin on the back of your hand. If it pops right back down, you are probably mostly hydrated. If it takes a few seconds for your skin to pop back down, you are most likely dehydrated.