We all know what happens when you don't drink enough water when you're lost the desert or floating out to sea on a lifeboat: slow, agonizing death. But you don't have to find yourself in a life-threatening predicament to experience dehydration every now and then. In fact, why don't you grab a glass of water right now before settling in to read? I'll wait.
I don't know about you, but drinking enough water somehow ends up pretty low on my list of daily priorities. If I'm being honest, it's somewhere between "think about the Harry Potter epilogue" and "fantasize about what I'll be eating for dinner tonight." But while you might be inclined to forget about it sometimes, the human body loses water each day through sweat, urine, and even breath. Given that your body is up to 60 percent water, it's important to make up for that loss by drinking liquids regularly. (Most experts recommend adults drink between six and eight eight-ounce glasses of fluid each day, although it depends on health, climate, and amount of exercise.) In the end, staying hydrated can maintain brain function, keep your bowel movements regular, and, perhaps most importantly, prevent hangovers from ruining your Sunday morning brunch.
Dehydration, on the other hand, can cause all kinds of short- and long-term problems. Read on for the gory details.
The easiest way to tell if you're dehydrated is by checking out the color of your pee. Drip Drop has a handy chart for comparing your urine, but the general idea is that it should be pale yellow or clear. If you're dehydrated, it can become darker and cloudier because it's less diluted. If your urine is on the darker side, it's probably a sign to pour yourself a glass.
Have you ever been struck by a mid-afternoon craving for cookie dough? Dr. John Higgins told Everyday Health that food cravings, particularly for sweets, can be a sign of dehydration. It's common to want sweet stuff, he explained, because your liver could be having trouble breaking down glycogen into glucose (aka sugar) for the bloodstream.
If you find yourself peckish even after you had a snack, you might just be dehydrated. Mild dehydration is often misinterpreted as hunger, leading you to the vending machine when all you really need is a glass of water.
Headaches from dehydration can range from dull and mild to debilitating. According to Medical News Today, the pain is caused by a temporary shrinkage of your brain due to fluid loss. This causes it to pull away from your skull slightly, which is as uncomfortable as it sounds. When you drink water, your brain puffs up again, and your headache ought to go away.
Next time you get the afternoon sleepies, you may want to reach for a water bottle along with that cup of coffee. According to Mayo Clinic, fatigue is a common symptom of dehydration. In 2015, a study of British doctors found that one in five patients showed up with symptoms that could be caused by not drinking enough, including tiredness.
This one is a bit controversial. In the running world, a prevailing theory is that drinking tons of water can prevent muscle cramps, and some doctors believe that a lack of water shifts blood circulation away from muscles. This, in turn, may make them cramp, especially during exercise. A 2015 study called this into question, but while the jury is still out, it can't hurt to drink extra water before you exercise.
If your coworkers wince when you get too close while talking, I hate to say that you might have halitosis, aka bad breath. The good news is that the solution might be easy: Drinking water can break up your saliva and, in turn, clear up mouth odors caused by bacteria.
According to Web MD, constipation is often caused by simple dehydration. Without enough water in your system, your large intestine absorbs water from your poop, leaving it harder to pass.
It can be difficult to tell the difference between dehydrated skin, which can be fixed by drinking water, and dry skin, which is a skin type. Dr. Harold Lancer told Refinery 29 that dry skin is usually tight, itchy, or irritated. Dehydrated skin, on the other hand, is "dull congested, and easily becomes flaky." If your skin suddenly takes a trip to Flake City, you might be dehydrated.
Dehydration comes with more than physical symptoms. According to a study published in 2012, young women who were mildly dehydrated struggled to concentrate on simple tasks. While they didn't show a reduction in mental abilities, they tended to perceive the exercises as more difficult, and they reported having more difficulty staying focused. So next time you're disproportionately cranky, try chugging some water before you say something you'll regret.