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Are You Dehydrated? 8 Signs You're Not Drinking Enough Water

Photo: Cultura / Daniel Allan

Newsflash: Intense thirst isn’t the only sign that you should drink more water. In fact, by the time you’re thirsty, you may have already entered into the dangerous territory of dehydration. Chronic dehydration could cause decreased kidney function, dizziness, and contribute to diseases, such as diabetes and, in the most severe cases, death. Whoa! Now that we’ve got your attention, do you need to increase your water intake? Well, here are eight signs of what could possibly happen if you aren't getting enough water.

Water is essential to our survival—a basic need we all probably take for granted at some point in our day-to-day lives. Yet with a laundry list of its positive benefits, it’s still a challenge for us to drink the recommended allowance of eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. Drinking more water is not only good for our bodies, but for our minds, organs, skin, and muscles as well. If you’re experiencing any of these eight signs of dehydration, it may be time to refill that water bottle soon.

You Have a Headache

Instead of grabbing the painkillers the next time you have a headache, try reaching for a glass of water. Our brains are 80% water. When you’re dehydrated, your brain tissue loses water causing brain shrinkage and pain surrounding the brain. Dehydration also lowers blood flow and oxygen to the brain, which leads to dilated blood vessels in the brain that increase swelling and inflammation. This, in turn, gives you a headache. We should note that drinking more fluids may not be 100% preventative, so if hydrating doesn’t ease the pain, you should see a doctor.

Your Mouth, Eyes, and Skin are Dry

We’re constantly losing body fluid throughout the day, and if you’re not replenishing those fluids and electrolytes, it can result in dry mouth because there’s not enough fluid to produce saliva. Similarly, dry skin and a lack of elasticity in your skin is caused by a lack of moisture \, and you could develop dry eyes due to decreased tear production. In short, your body needs water to lubricate your mouth, hydrate your skin, and help you see clearly.

Your Urine is Dark

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the color of your urine is probably the most visible sign and common indicator on whether you're properly hydrated or over-hydrated. If you notice your urine is more concentrated or darker, it means it has more waste. When there’s enough water flowing through your kidneys, it helps to flush out toxins and eliminate waste, resulting in urine that has more of a pale or transparent yellow color. Anything darker, and you’ll want to head to the office water cooler stat.

Illustration: Sarah Wilkins

You’re Disoriented

Dizziness, confusion, difficulty concentrating, and delirium are all signs you need to take a few gulps of water. Again, the body expels fluids every day through sweating, urination, and other bodily functions. This can cause an imbalance with our electrolytes (nutrients or minerals present in the body), and we need electrolytes for our bodies and minds to function properly.  

Your Energy Level is Low

Sure, a lack of sleep and other negative triggers could cause you to feel fatigued, but dehydration could also be robbing you of energy. When you’re dehydrated, the body stores up energy by decreasing blood circulation. Blood circulation is important because it delivers oxygen to the muscles, and if our blood flow isn’t circulating properly, we become lethargic and our energy level decreases.

You Often Have Muscle Cramps or Spasms

When we sweat, particularly during vigorous exercise, it can lead to a drop in sodium levels. During a high-intensity sweat session, there's only so much fluid to go around once we start to lose water. As a result, the body has to prioritize where the remaining fluid in the body should go. Most often, our circulatory system wins, which means our muscles have to take a backseat. If the muscles aren’t surrounded by enough water and sodium, they become extremely sensitive, causing involuntary muscle contractions or spasms.

You Don’t Sweat During Exercise

But what happens if you don’t sweat during a workout? It could mean your body is liquid-deprived. Typically, our bodies overheat during exercise, and we sweat to keep our core body temperature regulated. If there isn’t enough water to produce sweat, our body can’t regulate itself, which could be very dangerous as it may lead to overheating or heat stroke.

You’re Always Hungry

Sometimes you can feel like you’re hungry, when all you need to do is drink water. It could be thirst causing that rumbling inside your stomach, not actual hunger. Because dehydration slows the metabolism, it could have adverse effects in the body’s ability to burn fat. Not to mention when we’re dehydrated, the hypothalamus (an important part of the brain that controls our nervous and endocrine systems) may confuse thirst with appetite. Basically, it's a brain snafu that will have you craving for a bag of chips instead of some plain old zero-calorie H2O.

Now that you know what symptoms to look for, you may be wondering what you can do to combat dehydration. The good news is that you can reverse dehydration (especially in less extreme cases) by drinking more water and eating more hydrating foods. Whatever you do—just make sure you’re getting plenty of fluids throughout the day. Don’t wait for these signs or until your body screams, “Give me more water.” It may be too late by then. For tips on how to drink more, check out our easy ways to sneak more water into your day. Now, drink up!