Ways Dehydration is Affecting You That You Didn’t Realize

Shandra Martinez

| 4 min read

You’ve probably felt the signs of dehydration before, but not realized what was causing your problems. It might have been a headache sneaking up on you during a busy day, or a time when feeling like a workout at the gym was harder than it should have been. It could even have impacted you during an afternoon you felt forgetful, but didn’t understand why. Dehydration can be at the root of lots of different scenarios, even if you don’t feel especially thirsty. That’s why it’s important to keep your hydration levels in mind as you go about your day. If you don’t, we’ll show you some ways it can affect you.
Basic signs of dehydration. Dehydration is more common than people realize. Each year, half a million people in the U.S. are treated for the condition in hospitals, and surveys have shown 75% of people are chronically dehydrated. It’s a big deal when you consider that about 60% of our bodies are made up of water. Shanthi Appelö, a registered dietitian for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, said when people are not properly hydrated, it can impact the balance of minerals, salt, and sugar in the body, leading to a host of issues. And thirst is not necessarily a reliable trigger to drink more water, especially as people age. Some signs of dehydration include:
  • Constipation
  • Dry skin
  • Feeling fatigued during the day
  • Headaches
  • Feeling stiff
  • Dry mouth
  • Urine looks darker
While there are no specific rules on how much water someone should be drinking in a day - things like diet, exercise levels and body size all can impact that - there are some general guidelines, she said. It comes out to about 13 cups for a man and nine for a woman.

How sleep impacts hydration levels

How much sleep people get each night can also be tied to their dehydration levels. Appelö pointed to a 2019 study that observed the habits of 20,000 people from the U.S. and China. It found that people who got six hours of sleep each night had much higher rates of dehydration compared to those who slept for eight hours. The takeaway: Shorting yourself on sleep can interrupt your body’s circadian rhythm, which can in turn disrupt some needed hormone production linked to hydration.

The impact dehydration has on cognitive function

Most people don’t automatically connect dehydration to fuzzy thinking or brain fog, but there is a link. According to Harvard Health, some symptoms of dehydration kick in when our bodies experience just a 2% water deficit, Appelö said.
“Some of the symptoms that they listed were short-term memory loss, confusion, and fatigue,” Appelö said. “And in addition to some mood changes, irritability and depression. And with that oftentimes comes performance that is not as great as you would normally do. So if you’re taking a test, if you have a hard day at work, if you’re someone who does a lot of math, staying hydrated is a good idea.”

Ways to stay hydrated

Here are some tips for staying hydrated - and recognizing when you’re dehydrated:
  • Don’t rely on thirst alone
  • Keep drinking throughout the day
  • Find ways to make water more enjoyable, like sparkling water or adding lemon slices
  • Eat high-water fruits and vegetables like cucumber and watermelon
  • If you drink a lot of sodas during the day, start small by switching one to water
  • Carry a water bottle with you to remind yourself to keep drinking
  • If you’re working at home or at a desk, keep your water bottle handy or use a special glass
Listen to the podcast, Ways Dehydration is Affecting You That You Didn’t Realize, to hear the entire conversation, with Shanthi Appelö, a registered dietitian for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. 
A Healthier Michigan Podcast is brought to you by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. To hear more episodes on your smartphone or tablet, subscribe on Apple Podcast or Spotify or your favorite podcast app.
Photo credit: Getty Images
MI Blues Perspectives is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association