What is dehydration?
In its most simple terms, dehydration is simply a lack of water in your body. Dehydration occurs when our body does not have enough water to perform all its necessary functions at their normal efficiency.
Our bodies are comprised of roughly 70% water, meaning that when we are water deficient, the effects can be far reaching and very dangerous.
When going about your daily activities, your body uses water in a multitude of different ways to keep you functioning and healthy. From filtering out and getting rid of unusable or toxic substances to keeping your cells functioning normally, water plays a vital role in our bodies processes.
About 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated. The most basic reason for this is simply that it is hard to tell if you are dehydrated or not. Often, people are completely unaware of, or severely underestimate, how much water they should be drinking every day. This means chronic dehydration is the status quo for many, and they do not understand the impact this could be having on their life. So, how do you know if you are dehydrated?
How to tell when you are dehydrated?
The symptoms of dehydration generally begin in an extremely mild way, often going completely unnoticed. Generally, when the symptoms become clearly noticeable, the severity of dehydration is relatively extreme.
One of the main ways you can tell if you are dehydrated is simply awareness. Because it can often be hard to tell outright how much water your body needs at any given time, it is valuable to keep a mental note of your hydration. Think of the last time you had a glass of water. Was it this morning? Last night before bed? Are you drinking the correct amount of water every day for your demographic? (Hint: it is probably more water than you think) Have you had a soda or other beverage between your last glass of water and now? Many people don’t realize that non-water beverages such as soda tend to dehydrate you even more than not drinking anything.
Another great way to know when you are dehydrated is to learn your own bodies response to dehydration, especially light dehydration, as it is dangerous to become severely dehydrated. Often, light dehydration is accompanied by minute symptoms that may even seem unplaceable to the person experiencing them. Stay vigilant about things such as minor shifts in mood or focus, as often times these can be signs that dehydration is taking effect.
One surefire way to tell your level of hydration is the color of your urine. A properly hydrated person’s urine should be relatively clear, with only the slightest yellow hue. If your urine appears dark yellow in color, that is a telltale sign you are dehydrated. If your urine is completely clear, the good news is you are fully hydrated, although you are in excess of the amount of water you need to function, and you should be careful to not overhydrate.
What are the effects of dehydration?
The symptoms of dehydration can be hard to notice at first, for example, have you ever noticed that your temper feels just a little bit shorter for no reason? Or that you are ready to give up and quit on a task that usually you could easily power through? Is your focus failing you just enough to notice, but not enough to throw you completely off track?
Odds are, most of us have experienced something like these symptoms. A lot of times we write these symptoms off as a passing headache, or a bad day, or even just a random mood swing. In reality, often it can be attributed to dehydration. Dehydration causes the following symptoms in humans:
- Dry mouth
- Urinating and sweating less than usual
- Dark-colored urine
- Dry skin
- Feeling tired
These symptoms are not always severe, and often can be so mild that they are hard to identify. Because water plays such an important role in your bodily functions, often these mild symptoms overlap and create an often unplaceable but noticeable feeling of something being not quite right, but not assuredly wrong.
How to stay hydrated?
The key to staying hydrated is simple: consistently drink water throughout the day. Although this can be more difficult that you might expect to start, once you build a habit of drinking water it becomes second nature to stay hydrated. Drinking smaller quantities of water with a relatively higher frequency of intake is better for overall hydration than large quantities at a lower frequency.
Remember, your body uses a lot of water to process sugary drinks. Having a cold refreshing soda when your thirsty might sound good, but in reality, it only makes dehydration worse. A good rule of thumb for the hydration inclined is to always drink a glass of water for every soda, beer, coffee, or other non-water beverage you consume.
Is there such a thing as over-hydrated?
In short, the answer is simply yes. You can be over-hydrated. While your body is mostly water, it is not necessarily plain fresh water. The water in your body is in part a saline solution, meaning that a delicate balance of salt and water is required to keep your body functioning correctly. The issue with drinking too much water is simply that it creates an imbalance in your salt and water levels, a condition referred to as hyponatremia. This condition is very serious and can cause severe complications and even death.
The good news is you must drink a very large amount of water to become hyponatremic and unless you’re chugging water consistently through the day, you are at little to no risk of ever having an issue.