How Dehydration Affects Your Mental Health: 5 Ways to Boost Your Water Intake

Did you know that by the time you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated? If you’re like most Americans, you’re most likely not drinking enough water and may be wondering how dehydration affects your mental health.

Our bodies are made up of mostly water. When you don’t have enough water, it negatively affects your body physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Read on to learn more about how dehydration affects the brain, what common symptoms of dehydration are, and how to boost your water intake.

What Is Dehydration?

Dehydration occurs when you use or lose more water than you take in, and the body doesn’t have enough water or fluids to carry out normal functions. When you don’t replace lost fluids, you become dehydrated.

Humans need water to stay alive. Water makes up 60 percent of the human body, making it essential to keeping our body functioning properly and maintaining overall mental and physical wellness.

Losing just 1 percent of body mass can lead to a dip in mood and heightened anxiety, and it can affect the normal functions of the human body. Something as simple as breathing causes the body to lose fluids. You shouldn’t ignore thirst; it’s your body’s way of telling you that you need water.

How Does Dehydration Affect The Brain?

Water makes up 75 percent of the human brain. Moderate dehydration slows circulation, which means less oxygen goes to your body – including your brain. Extreme levels of dehydration can lead to delirium, unconsciousness, and even coma.

Dehydration throws off dopamine and serotonin balances in the brain; natural chemicals that can trigger feelings of depression and anxiety. Brain cells require a delicate balance between water and various elements to operate. Losing too much water disrupts this balance, and your brain cells lose efficiency.

It’s essential to increase your water intake when the weather is very hot, during and after exercise, if you’re sick with a fever, vomiting, or diarrhea, and if you are pregnant or nursing. It’s also helpful to drink lots of water when experiencing high-stress levels to flush out cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone when in excess, can negatively affect the body physically and emotionally.

Adverse Effects Of Dehydration On Mood

The amount of water you drink can influence your physical health as well as your mental and emotional health. Multiple studies have found a link between dehydration and these mental health states:

  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Decreased ability to concentrate
  • Anxiety
  • Tension

Signs Of Dehydration

Solely relying on thirst as the time to drink is not a great benchmark of need, as it can be unreliable. Instead, check the color of your urine; if it’s dark yellow, then you’re not getting enough water. 

Here are some more ways to tell if you’re dehydrated:

  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Constipation
  • Fast heart rate
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Sleepiness
  • Nausea

Benefits Of Hydration

As we stated earlier, water makes up 75 percent of the brain. It is an essential nutrient for optimal brain function.

Here are a few of the benefits of a well-hydrated brain:

  • Balanced Mood: A 2018 study of over 3,000 adults showed those who drank more water had a lower risk of anxiety and depression. Drinking water keeps cells active and balances chemical processes in the brain, aiding in regulating moods.
  • Improved Concentration: One of the first effects of dehydration is a loss of concentration. Staying hydrated will help keep you alert and focus your attention.
  • Prevent and Relieve Headaches: Dehydration has been shown to cause headaches and migraines in some individuals. Studies have shown drinking water can prevent or relieve the pain associated with certain types of headaches.
  • Better Sleep: Drinking more water increases circulation and blood flow to the brain. Increased blood flow improves oxygenation and calms the brain, helping with getting a better night’s sleep.
  • Sustained Memory Function: When you’re dehydrated, it becomes harder to memorize things, infer information, and to create long-term memories. It’s essential to have enough water daily to maintain memory function.

How Much Water Should You Drink?

Most people follow the “eight glasses of water a day” rule, but there’s actually no set amount of water humans should consume daily. How much water you need depends on multiple factors, including climate, general health, age, and activity levels.

According to the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, an adequate amount of daily water intake is about 15.5 cups  (3.7 liters)  of fluids a day for men and 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women.

This number will increase on warmer days and when you’re participating in more rigorous activities.

5 Ways To Boost Your Water Intake

  • Drink water when you wake up. Start your day right with a glass of water as soon as you wake up. Add lemon for some flavor and to help aid in digestion.
  • Keep water close. Carry a water bottle with you when you go to work, the gym, and while running errands as a reminder to drink water throughout the day.
  • Eat fruits and vegetables. Including fruits and vegetables with a high water content can meet up to 20 percent of your daily water consumption. Fruits with high water content include oranges, watermelon, and tomatoes. Lettuce, cucumber, and zucchini are a few vegetables with equally notable water content.
  • Set an alarm. Drinking small amounts of water throughout the day instead of drinking a pint before bedtime will keep you hydrated. Try setting an alarm to remind you to take a sip until it becomes a habit.
  • Replace other drinks with water. An easy way to drink more water is to replace other beverages, such as soda, coffee, and energy drinks with water. Not only will you increase your water consumption, but you’ll lower the amount of added sugar in your diet and cut calories!

Why Should We Talk About Hydration And Mental Health?

Hydration is essential to the health of any living being. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and the first week of the month is also Drinking Water Week. Both awareness initiatives offer the opportunity to start conversations about the various aspects of human health.

Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed in the United States since 1949, and participating affiliates offer information about mental health, mental health screenings, and related toolkits and activities. At Leaf Home Water Solutions, we believe mental health shouldn’t be watered down. While hydration is an important aspect of maintaining a healthy body and mind, it is important to remember that there is so much more that goes into maintaining and addressing your individual needs. If you are facing a mental health concern, the organization behind Mental Health Month (Mental Health America) offers tools to help you address your needs and easy access to crisis counselors.

Drinking Water Week presents an opportunity to discuss the importance of clean water to human life. While regulations and treatment have assisted with keeping people on public water lines safe, contaminants may still seep into water during storage and distribution. In the United States, aging pipes and water distribution systems may be a century old or even older, which presents health concerns. Repairing aging water systems could cost trillions of dollars… and it can be even more costly in terms of time. Education, reporting, discussion, and continued regulation are essential to keeping drinking water (also called potable water) healthy. Home water treatment provides an extra line of defense against contaminants, but protecting water sources and improving water quality is an ongoing challenge that can only be addressed through conversation and action.

While May presents an ideal time to discuss these points, both mental health and drinking water awareness are important topics that deserve to be highlighted all year.  

The Bottom Line

The science around the effects of hydration on cognitive function continues to develop. Still, early studies show our brains can detect dehydration and signal parts of the brain that affect mood. Staying hydrated and drinking water throughout the day is a simple yet vital component of optimal physical, emotional, and mental health.

Want to learn more about how hydration helps our four-legged friends? Check out our article on how to prevent dehydration in dogs

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