You’ll be reaching for a water bottle after you read this.
Recent research into the effects of dehydration, shows that being dehydrated can effect your mood, your ability to concentrate and your ability to think clearly. Even just a slight amount of dehydration (defined as 1.5% dehydration) such as not drinking water for a few hours on a hot summer day, can have measureable adverse effects on the brain.
Dr. Harris Lieberman, a Ph.D researcher studying the effects of dehydration explains, “The brain is extremely sensitive to even small changes in the amounts of ions like sodium and potassium found in your body’s fluids”.
Perhaps most interesting about the study, are the different results for different genders: While both men and women experience negative cognitive effects from dehydration — women appear to be far more sensitive to insufficient hydration. The changes in women’s energy-levels and emotional outlook changed significantly at even low levels of dehydration. Lieberman added, “Women were also more likely to have headaches and report difficulty concentrating”.
Another study, conducted by King’s College, London, revealed that the frontal-parietal region of our brain has to work far harder to complete the same mental processes when we’re dehydrated. All that extra mental effort to complete the same mental tasks results in fatigue, and eventually an inability to maintain concentration and focus. And another study at the University of Connecticut showed that whether or not we perceive a task to be “difficult” is affected by our level of hydration.
But that’s just what happens at low levels of dehydration. At higher levels of dehydration your brain actually shrinks. The ability of a severely dehydrated brain to perform cognitive tasks is severely impacted. Small cognitive tasks can become extremely challenging. Even more scary, quickly re-hydrating by drinking lots of fluids after being dehydrated can cause swelling and even cell damage in extreme cases — which is why it’s important to maintain a constant level of hydration, rather than to allow oneself to become dehydrated.
So next time you’re working, exercising or doing brain training — keep a bottle of water handy. Being dehydrated might just be holding you back.