The Mind-Water Connection (Plus, 3 Tips for Better Hydration!)

by Elle Penner, MPH, RD
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The Mind-Water Connection (Plus, 3 Tips for Better Hydration!)

Summer is in full swing—on my part of the globe, at least. And with hotter temperatures comes more perspiration, which can put you at greater risk for dehydration.

You probably already know the physical signs of mild dehydration: dry mouth, thirst, feelings of hunger, parched skin, headache, sluggishness, and constipation, but there’s another symptom to add to the list. New research suggests even mild cases of dehydration can have negative impacts on our mood.

A study published in the Journal of Nutrition looked at how mild dehydration impacts cognitive performance, mood, and other brain function. While the effects on cognitive performance seemed minimal, dehydrated study participants found it significantly harder to concentrate and perform certain tasks. They also reported feeling more irritable and fatigued. Only women were enrolled in this particular study, but researchers believe these findings also apply to men, as they are consistent with a 2005 study that analyzed the cognitive effects of mild dehydration in both men and women.

The early effects of dehydration often set in before you even feel thirsty, so it’s important to consistently drink water throughout the day to keep your mind sharp and help your body run more efficiently. Individual needs vary depending on climate, activity level and health status, but The Institute of Medicine (IOM) suggests an adequate fluid intake of roughly 3 liters (about 13 cups) per day for men and 2.2 liters (about 9 cups) per day for women. (Runners may need to drink even more in hot weather.)

To some people, myself included, those amounts might seem hard to hit. Stay hydrated with these 3 simple tips:

  • Set two or three daily water goals, not just one 2.2 liters of water is a lot if you only drink one or two during the day and then try to squeeze in the rest before bedtime. Try breaking up your daily hydration target into morning, afternoon and evening goals. This will make it more achievable and ensure you’re adequately hydrated throughout the day. For example, during a typical workday, I aim to get in 32-ounces of water by lunchtime and another 32-ounces before quitting time. By the time dinner rolls around, all I need is one 10-ounce glass and I’ve met my daily goal.
  • Invest in a water bottle Or two! Have one at home to take with you on errands, or when you travel, and keep another one at work. Simply having a cold glass of water on my desk is enough to remind me to drink throughout the day. The key is to fill it up again as soon as it’s empty.
  • Set hydration reminders Need a mid-morning nudge to meet your noontime deadline? Create a calendar reminder with an alarm in your cellphone or on your computer to remind you to start gulping.

Drink up, and don’t let summer’s soaring temps put you in a bad mood!

Do you have any tips for staying hydrated? Tell us in the comments below!


  • Dave Gee

    Nice – an MFP blog post that refers to scientific studes, actually links to them and seems to pretty reasonably represent said studies.
    A first, I think – lets hope the start a new more responsible editorial policy after ‘vegan cleanse’ and the like we’ve had splattered over our screens!

  • This article is misleading. The author misrepresented the information from the Institute of Medicine she linked to. Again, another nutritionist parrots the propaganda perpetuated by the bottled water industry and long-disproven wives’ tales from a hundred years ago, scaring people into thinking they’re going to die of thirst if they don’t drink enough water.

    Here’s what that pdf actually said about proper hydration:

    “Daily consumption below the AI [adequate intake] may not confer additional risk because a wide range of intakes is compatible with normal hydration. In this setting, the AI should not be interpreted as a specific requirement.”

    Thanks to the USDA, we can gather that no, you won’t die of thirst if you don’t carry a bottle of water around with you wherever you go.

    Then the author goes on to state her personal specific requirements.

    I think this is bogus. Drink when you’re thirsty, not when the water-sellers want you to drink. This study is not evidence, especially when the study itself said “the effects on cognitive performance seemed minimal,” and then goes on to repeat the subjective judgments of the woman who were part of the study. This kind of self-reported “feelings” data is junk science.

    • JofJLTNCB6

      I’m curious, Charlie, why did you upvote Dave’s earlier comment which praised this same article that you just very effectively dismantled?

      • I was applauding Dave’s hope for “the start a new more responsible editorial policy,” which I am wishing will begin after this article. At least this one with its weak attempt at science was certainly better than the “vegan cleanse” nonsense that was published before.

        • Josh Wilson

          For you to dismantle the article on the premise that she is talking about people “dying of thirst” is quite ignorant, seeing as how she is not even talking about that. Short and sweet, her point is psychological. Water aids neurons in the brain and body, and help them transmit information quicker (yes, along with proper nutrition and sleep) through the synaptic gap. That promotes transmission of emotional signals and cognitive judgment. It’s Psych 101, which indeed is real science. And I am pretty certain she didn’t specify whose water to drink, to counter the “bottled water propaganda.”

          • The article dismantled itself: the study itself said “the effects on cognitive performance seemed minimal.” Nothing ignorant about reading comprehension, Josh.

          • Nadja Robot

            I feel like one of the key points is in the second sentence of the study-
            Although cognitive performance was not substantially impaired in healthy, young females who were mildly dehydrated, key mood states including vigor, fatigue, perception of task difficulty, concentration, and headache were adversely affected by a small change in hydration.

    • whogivesacrap

      “Drink when you are thirsty” is like saying, “If you want to lose weight, just quit eating”. If I drank when I was thirsty , I would be dead, I have the capacity of a camel to go without hydrating. It has nothing to do with buying a bottle or water sellers, as I am not moved by either. I am moved by improving my own health. But, thank you for implying that women can’t think for ourselves.

    • Kyira

      I believe you misread the article and the authors intentions. The author doesn’t seem to be stealing info from another article. Her information is correct. She’s not promoting water bottles. Maybe you should try the experiment on yourself to see what results you receive.

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  • Kimberly Stephens

    One practice I have adopted in ensuring that I drink more / enough water/fluids per day was learned through a Dr. Oz episode. I purchased stretchy rubber bracelets. I now start with 8 on my right arm. As I drink 8 oz worth, I transfer a bracelet to my left arm. When all 8 bracelets are on my left arm, I know I have had 64 ozs of fluid per day. This has REALLY helped me be more mindful of hydration vs. dehydration. This is a practice you might want to adopt. Bracelets, rubber bands, hair elastics, etc. K

  • Sunbow

    Whether the amounts are accurate, etc. is not something that concerns me. What about folks (like me) who are on restrictive fluid intake? I am limited to 50 ounces per day which includes any tea, coffee, jello, yogurt, ice cream,milk, etc which I consume? Please account for this issue when you next write in a blog about this topic.

  • Michael Longley

    Interestingly I think the medical evidence for this continues to grow. As a surgeon I laughed this off until recently stating that “the body will maintain its hydration without difficulty”. However it is not that simple or intuitive at all. May of us use drugs which effect our water and electrolyte balance e.g. caffeine or diuretics. Overnight we all exhale water and wake up relatively dehydrated, this produces lethargy which we treat for with caffeine which is a diuretic and worsens the problem. The real solution is early hydration which will improve mood and energy. The intake of water can flush the kidneys and actually help our bodies move out of a water retention mode an excrete excess extra cellular fluids and improve cellular homeostasis. Don’t forget a significant component of an alcohol induced handover is due to cerebral fluid imbalances and that can sure change our moods. Most of us have too much salt in our diets which needs extra water to excrete. A real look into this issue illustrates how complex it is and one rule does not work for everyone especially if medications are involved.

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  • Sonia

    That’s correct hydration is essencial when doing your workout 🙂

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  • bundleone

    I keep pint glass on my kitchen window sill, and as I pass by the kitchen I take drink and the refill reafy for the next time