This Is What Happens To Your Brain When You Don’t Drink Enough Water

by Carolyn de Lorenzo

We all know that drinking water is literally the best thing we can do for our bodies. It helps us regulate our internal body temperature, digest our food, lubricate our joints, and acts as a "shock absorber" for our brains and spinal column, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. A healthy brain is made up of about 73 percent water, so adequate hydration is kind of a big deal — and what happens to your brain when you're dehydrated is, well, kind of scary.

When we become dehydrated, especially if that dehydration is chronic, we can run into all sorts of health problems, not the least of which include headaches, dry eyes, fatigue, and dizziness, according to the Mayo Clinic, while PopSugar reports that severe dehydration can cause fever, fainting, and dangerously low blood pressure. But dehydration can not only affect your mood — it can physically change what's going on in your noggin, so it's important to make sure your reusable water bottle is filled up this summer. Here’s what you should know, especially as these balmy summer days start to heat up.

As it turns out, our brains have an actual “thirst center,” according to ScienceAlert, and once your hydration levels start to dip below optimal, the brain starts sounding the alarm. According the the National Institutes of Health, the brain needs adequate water to function properly — and young children, adolescents, athletes, and older people are especially vulnerable to both mood and cognitive problems when dehydrated, while dehydration-induced mood impairments are widely reported across all populations.

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According the Business Insider Australia, as little as one percent dehydration can have negative effects on both mood and memory function, and by the time we’re actually feeling thirsty, we’re already dehydrated as “our thirst mechanism lags behind our actual level of hydration.” Once the brain is dehydrated, some studies show that we may temporarily lose volume in our brains — meaning that our brains might actually shrink when we don’t drink enough water. Studies also show that this decrease in brain volume due to dehydration, and the effects on the brain ventricles, or the brain cavities that produce and transport cerebrospinal fluid, can up the risk of brain injuries and concussions, and so can be extra dangerous for athletes and those who are active outdoors — especially during warmer weather when the chances of dehydration increase due to a higher likelihood of lots of sweating.

As if all that weren’t incentive enough to up your daily water intake each day, it's possible that being dehydrated can actually have similar effects on your brain as being drunk. One study suggests that it can actually be as dangerous to drive while dehydrated as it is to operate a vehicle while drunk, because dehydration reduces concentration and reaction time, and also impairs motor skills. This is an especially scary consequence of simply not taking in enough water each day.

If you struggle with staying well-hydrated throughout the summer, commit to taking a reusable water bottle around with you and drinking the whole thing a few times each day, and not just when you're thirsty. There are a number of wellness apps out there that can help you track your water intake (and therefore, your overall hydration levels).

There’s no doubt that staying well hydrated is absolutely key to overall good health, and is imperative to good memory and cognitive function, balanced moods, physical coordination, healthy brain development in kids and adolescents, and even protecting against potential head injuries while playing sports. In order to keep our brain function healthy and in tip top shape, we need to be slurping back that water on the reg — especially if we’re active outdoors on hot summer days. So grab your favorite reusable water bottle, and keep filling that baby up throughout your day.