A few weeks ago, I woke up in the middle of the night with a really dry mouth. My dentist had recommended a dry mouth spray for such occurrences, so I reached out in the dark and took a couple of blasts of the spray, only to realize that what I had used was lavender air freshener instead. Gross! Luckily I was able to go right back to sleep, maybe because lavender is known for its relaxing properties.
The point is that water is an issue for me, and it’s too important of a nutrient not to be getting enough of it. In fact, it’s considered to be an essential nutrient because your body needs more water than it can ever produce on its own. Think about it: You lose water every day through evaporation, elimination, respiration, and perspiration. You can live for quite a long time without food, but only for about three days without water. Here are a few of the things that water does for you:
It helps regulate your body temperature.
Water supports your digestion and keeps the process moving.
Water in the form of synovial fluid in your joints acts as a shock absorber and slows down wear and tear.
It’s crucial in controlling your blood pressure.
Water helps your immunity by flushing toxins from your body.
It helps balance your body’s electrolytes, which regulate nerve and muscle function and maintain the acid balance (pH) in your body.
Experts vary widely in their recommendations of how much water you actually need to drink each day. Some recommend between four and eight cups (32 ounces to 64 ounces) daily, while others say you need as much as 96 ounces, which translates to 12 cups per day. What you actually need is specific to you, depending on your age, exercise levels, the medications you’re taking, and your overall health. In addition, you need more water when it’s hot out, if you’re running a fever, or if you’ve had an illness that causes diarrhea or vomiting.
While your brain tells you when you’re dehydrated and when you need water by making you feel thirsty, your thirst isn’t a reliable gauge for when to drink. Thirst signals actually decrease as you get older, which means you need to make sure you’re getting enough water, even if you aren’t you’re thirsty.
This is my problem. I’m just not thirsty unless I’ve worked out for a long time on a hot day. And getting dehydrated isn’t a good thing. It can cause headaches, muscle cramps, and even sprains and muscle strains, as dehydrated tissues are more prone to injuries. For me, being dehydrated makes my mouth dry, and it’s a powerful trigger for migraine headaches.
The question is how can you get enough fluids if you’re just not thirsty? Here are a few tips that may help if you also struggle to get enough water each day:
Set a goal for how much water you want to drink throughout the day. Make it realistic and achievable, then track how you’re doing.
Try to drink the largest portion of water early in the day. Playing catch-up late in the day is a recipe for a lot of bathroom trips at night.
Carry a water bottle with you and sip it constantly. This accomplishes a couple of things: It tells you how much you’re actually drinking, it can help you reach your daily goal, and it serves as a reminder to drink. Without the guidance of thirst, your water bottle serves as a good reminder.
For some people, plain water gets boring, especially when you’re not thirsty in the first place. Try adding a little flavor, such as a wedge of lemon, lime, or orange. You can also try bits of strawberry, raspberry, or cucumber or add a small amount of juice to your water.
If your water tastes outright bad, try a water filter. You can get one that attaches to your tap or a pitcher that filters the water before you drink it or a countertop system that leaves you with plenty of water ready to drink or cook with. A good filter removes chlorine and contaminants from your water, including lead.
Eat hydrating foods. This includes soup and water-dense fruits and vegetables, such as melons, lettuce, cucumbers, strawberries, peaches, and citrus fruits.
Build drinking water into your routine. Just like you brush your teeth when you get up in the morning (you do this, right?), you can make it a habit to drink during or after certain activities. For example, drinking water when you first get up is a great way to get your body going, and drinking a little before each meal can aid in weight loss. That’s because many people mistake hunger for thirst and eat more than they need. You can also plan to hydrate after a walk or workout and while you’re making dinner. You know your routine, so schedule what works best for you.
A couple of things to avoid are alcohol and sugary drinks. Alcohol is actually dehydrating and sugary drinks are among the most unhealthy substances that you can put into your body.
The bottom line is that being dehydrated isn’t good for you. It can lead to kidney problems, urinary tract infections, kidney stones, low blood volume, fatigue, and dizziness. Even mild dehydration is linked to a reduced ability to focus. I’m one of those people who have to work at drinking enough and you may be, too. Without the signal of thirst, it’s helpful to have workarounds and reminders. In the time it took me to write this, I drank a 12-ounce glass of water. Baby steps!