THIRST: What I learned From 24 Hours of Dehydration

YOU haven’t had enough water today. In fact, YOU are probably mildly dehydrated right now. I don’t mean to call you out to make you feel bad, I’m just genuinely concerned for your health.

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The Dehydration Epidemic 

YOU haven’t had enough water today. In fact, YOU are probably mildly dehydrated right now. I don’t mean to call you out to make you feel bad, I’m just genuinely concerned for your health.

Most people aren’t putting much effort into drinking an adequate amount of water each day. Very few people keep track how many times they fill up their water bottles, and unfortunately, too many people are drinking more sugar than H2O.

Heres the reason this is such a big deal: Water is essential to your body for things like building cells, regulating internal temperature, strengthening muscles and moisturizing skin. Some of these functions may not sound that important to you on a surface level, but trust me, when your body doesn’t have enough water things start to head south…fast.

The difficult part about hydration and the unfortunate turn off for so many people is that you need to be proactive about it. How can one be proactive about their hydration habits? Simple: Never catch yourself with an empty water bottle. 

If you feel thirsty, you’re already too late. This means that you’re most likely in a state of mild dehydration. Which is a definitely not a good thing. Mild dehydration means that you have lost around 1.5-2.5% of your normal body weight due to a lack of fluids. Mild dehydration has shown to: decrease cognitive performance, induce headaches, effect gastrointestinal functiondecrease physical performance and much more. 

Hopefully, at this point, you’ve evaluated how much you drank today and gotten up to refill your big Nalgene bottle. The point I’m trying to make here is that people need to take their hydration seriously. If they want to function at their best every day and optimize longevity, performance, and mental sharpness, they need to provide their bodies with the thing it needs most. 

In my critical opinion, hydration is treated just like sleep, it’s literally essential to life, yet continues to be ignored and taken for granted. Lack of sleep will slowly kill you over time but lack of water will kill you in as little as two days to a week. It sounds grim, but this thought should be in the back of your head next time you skip that glass of water at lunch.

If you watch any survival show you’ll learn that the first and most important resource to locate is water. Food, shelter, and rescue come in a close second. But it shouldn’t take a real-life survival situation to persuade you of how important water is, you just need to listen to your body more carefully. If all else fails, try thinking about how amazing a cold glass of water tastes and feels on a hot summer day. That thought will make anyone crave some high-quality H2O.


The Study

I recently participated in a research study about Thirst and Dehydration for the Korey Stringer Institute at The University of Connecticut. KSI is a Human Performance Lab at my school that has pioneered research in the fields of heat stroke, dehydration and much more.

The study was conducted over the course of 4 days and included one 24hr period absolutely no water or liquid of any kind. In short, the goal of the study was to “better understand thirst and its relationships to urine and blood indicators of hydration status, psychological ratings, and physical characteristics.” 

Here was the basic structure:

Screen Shot 2018-04-26 at 8.49.22 PMScreen Shot 2018-04-26 at 8.40.03 PM

Let me break  this down for you: 

Day 1: Normal Hydration
Day 2: 24 hr Dehydration (No fluids 7am-7am)
Day 3: Morning Rehydration + Normal Day of Hydration
Day 4: Morning Follow up Testing + End of Experiment

#– Blood samples
K– Karolinska Sleep Diary
C – Cognitive/Mental Tests
PP– Physical Performance Tests (Vertical Jump & Grip Strength) and Balance Tests (BESS)
S– Prototype Smartwatch Testing (Cardiovascular Data)
A– Return to the lab when the first sensation of thirst is noticed

Recurring Daily Protocols:
-Collect all urine each 24hr period
-Log all food and fluids consumed each 24hr period
-Fill out perceptual ratings every hour on the hour each 24hr period
-Refrain from exercise for 72hrs


My Experience and Findings

Overall, It was a cool experience participating in this study. Besides the multiple blood drawings each day (that left me bruised and looking like a heroin addict), having to collect all my urine in a jug, and refraining from exercise for 72 hours, it wasn’t that bad. 

What surprised me most was how serious mild dehydration affected my testing performance. Not only did I feel the ill effects, but there was a noticeable decrease in my cognitive/mental performance, physical performance, sleep and overall mood. I knew these side effects were likely to occur based on my prior research, but I was cocky and thought I could power through it. Boy, was I wrong.

Mental fog, irritability, and dry mouth were probably the most difficult effects to deal with. The mental fog made getting my work done very difficult, and I frequently lost my train of thought in the middle of writing.

The irritability was certainly not enjoyable either, but it was hilarious. I found myself getting angry at lots of little things, like people walking slowly in front of me, the uneven length of my backpack straps, the weather and the speed that my professors were teaching. These were things that I barely noticed on normal days, but thanks to dehydration I couldn’t help but notice them. Every moment of seemingly irrational frustration came with a brief moment of clarity. In that short fleeting moment I was able to laugh at myself for being so mad at such a stupid thing…but then I went right back to being pissed off.

The dry mouth was extremely unpleasant. It felt like every single little cell on the surface of my mouth was begging for water. Post-meal time was the worst because I had no handy-dandy water to wash the leftover food away with, nor any significant saliva to aid in digestion.

My physical performance testing felt noticeably different on the dehydration day as well. Vertical jump and grip tests felt like an entire workout in themselves, and my balance was laughable.

My sleep? You can probably assume how that went. Let’s just say that for a person who drinks 30fl oz of special water upon waking each morning, my brain and body were not happy when they couldn’t drink after a restless night of sleep.


Final Thoughts

Don’t subject yourself to mild dehydration. Just don’t do it.

As you now know, the consequences of dehydration are very undesirable, even after as little as 24 hours. Take a second and imagine how people feel walking through life each day in a mildly dehydrated state. Day after day, dealing with mental fog, irritability and weakness that gets worse over time. Don’t become that person. Think of yourself as a plant, if you don’t water a plant it shrivels up and dies. Don’t let your fate be the same as a neglected plant. Drink more water.

-GK
Optimize Everything


Leave a comment below:

How much water do you drink every day?

Have a similar dehydration experience?

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