Here’s a deep dive into why it’s important to stay hydrated, including the side effects of dehydration. Plus: a daily benchmark for fluid intake and helpful tips to stay hydrated.
It’s no surprise that water is essential to nearly all forms of life. In fact, approximately 60 percent of the human body is made of water—but staying hydrated is a habit many of us struggle to maintain. While drinking water is simple in and of itself, it may seem overwhelming to consume enough each day. However, it’s essential to do so to avoid what happens when you’re dehydrated.
Keep reading to learn more about the side effects of dehydration and why hydration is so important for your well-being.
What is dehydration, exactly?
Dehydration happens when the total amount of fluids taken in is less than what is required for your body’s needs.
It can occur as a result of many things, such as excessive sweating, diarrhea, vomiting, and as a side effect of certain medications.
Additionally, you’ll need to increase your fluid intake after any of the following activities to prevent the likelihood of dehydrating:
- strenuous exercise
- working or being in the sun for prolonged periods of time
- when you’re ill (especially if fever, nausea, or vomiting are present)
- any time you sweat more than usual
Side Effects of Dehydration
For most healthy people, signs of dehydration arise when your body communicates that it needs some water. Of course, the first and most common signal is thirst.
Otherwise, the major side effects of dehydration to look out for include:
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- muscle cramps/leg cramps
- decreased urination
Just like many other lifestyle habits, listening to your body when it comes to fluid intake will serve to your benefit. In other words, be sure to pay attention to those signs and hydrate accordingly.
Why is it important to stay hydrated?
In addition to avoiding the side effects of dehydration above, getting enough fluids is also important because it supports many aspects of your health.
Let’s dive into the specifics.
1. Hydration Boosts Skin Health
Your skin is made up of about 64 percent water. And without enough fluids in your system, your skin can lose its elasticity.
The more elasticity your skin has, the less likely it is to form fine lines and wrinkles. That said, staying hydrated may help keep your skin plump and prevent signs of aging.
Then, if your skin isn’t adequately hydrated, the work you put into perfecting your skincare routine may be for naught. You can help prevent dry, rough, and flaky skin by hydrating your skin from the inside out.
For instance, a 2015 study found that women who consumed around two liters of water each day for a month had increased skin hydration.
2. Hydration Soothes Dry Eyes
Your eyes are other organs with high water content. For that reason, dehydration may compromise your eye health and potentially result in dry eye syndrome.
The discomfort from dry eyes can cause us to rub them. While rubbing your eyes may seem harmless, doing so may not only transfer harmful bacteria from our hands, but also potentially lead to damage.
To maintain good eye health, drink plenty of water so you can avoid both irritation and the urge to rub them.
3. Hydration Supports Cognition + Mood
This reason why it’s important to stay hydrated may not have crossed your mind. But according to a small 2012 study, your level of hydration can affect your mood throughout the day.
It found that young, healthy women who were mildly dehydrated experienced:
- less vigor
- greater levels of fatigue
- heightened perceived task difficulty
- poorer concentration
- headache symptoms
Basically, you’re more likely to experience overwhelm and struggle focusing on tasks when you’re dehydrated. That combination never bodes well when you’re busy meeting the day’s demands.
Interestingly, this study also states the body may be more sensitive to the effects of dehydration throughout certain phases of the menstrual cycle. Hydration plays a role in premenstrual mood changes, as well.
To further emphasize water’s crucial impact on your state of mind, other studies assert that increasing water consumption improves mood, focus, and cognitive performance.
4. Hydration Aids Digestion
Finally, water is necessary to promote healthy, regular digestion. Without enough of it, you may experience more irregularity in your bowel movements.
Regular, solid bowel movements are important because it’s how we naturally expel waste and toxins from the body. Water makes sure that stool is soft enough so it’s not difficult to pass.
So what happens when you’re dehydrated? Your stool can become small, hard, and pebble-like, making it painful and uncomfortable to pass.
How much water do I need to drink each day?
There’s no “official” way to determine how much water you should drink each day. That’s because your hydration needs vary depending on multiple factors, such as:
- intensity + frequency of exercise
- what type of work you do (manual labor versus an office job)
- your age
However, a good rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in ounces each day.
That said, water, decaffeinated coffee, caffeine-free teas, and sports drinks all count toward fluid intake. Plus, since soups, jello, and popsicles turn into liquid in your body, they can count towards your daily quota as well.
Yep, you read that right—you don’t have to settle for only water!
Tips to Stay Hydrated
As we saw above, it’s possible to get creative with your fluid intake. If you need more inspiration, follow these tips to ensure you stay hydrated throughout the day.
- Keep a water bottle with you. Carrying a water bottle around will serve as a handy reminder to keep on chugging. Aim for a bottle that fits your lifestyle and needs (and maybe your purse). I’d recommend going for one between 24 to 32 ounces. They even make fun ones with encouraging messages on the bottle that cheer you on as you sip!
- Infuse your water. Add fresh fruits, herbs, and refreshing veggies to your water to keep it interesting. Some go-to combos include sliced strawberries and mint leaves, cucumber and mint leaves, and sliced strawberries and lemons. Get creative and create your own unique infusions!
- Set reminders to hydrate. It may seem a bit extra, prioritizing hydration will benefit your health. Try setting a daily ounce goal for yourself, then use your phone/smartwatch to remind you to drink a set amount of ounces each hour. It’s most effective to set the reminders during times when you typically forget, like during work or classes. Once you’ve solidified the habit, you may find that you won’t need the reminders anymore.
The Bottom Line
Water is a nutrient that’s essential for many of our body’s functions. Without enough of it, side effects of dehydration can include anything from headaches and fatigue to dry eyes and dull skin.
So now that you know why it’s important to stay hydrated, be sure to prioritize your H2O intake.
If boredom with water keeps you from drinking it, you’re not alone. Just remember that there are plenty of ways to get creative if you want to avoid dehydration. Challenge yourself to find ways to drink up, and your health will be all the more stronger.