Water is an indispensable element for any living creature. From flushing out toxins to delivering minerals and nutrients throughout your body, water has several functions that promote the healthy functioning of your body.
Time and time again, we are told about the importance of drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated. This article will provide useful information on how much water you should drink per day, which is the best time to drink water, what happens if you drink too little or too much water, and which is the best type of water to drink.
How much water should you drink per day?
When it comes to quantifying the recommended daily water intake, there are several ways to approach the matter. For long, the 8×8 rule, that is, 8 eight-ounce glasses of water per day, was the go-to standard of proper hydration, which was largely discredited since it isn’t supported by scientific evidence.
There were also suggestions that women need about 2 litres of water per day, while men should drink 3 litres of water per day. The truth, however, is a little more nuanced – there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to hydration, and drinking too much water isn’t a good solution either.
So how should you approach hydration to get enough water in your system? While the above guidelines can make it easier for you to remember to stay on top of your hydration needs, relying on your thirst instinct is usually enough to stay properly hydrated.
How often should you drink water?
The frequency of your water intake is determined by the rate at which your body loses water either through breathing, exercise, or because of unfavourable weather conditions (e.g. extreme heat) or as a result of an illness, for example.
Here are some good techniques to make sure that you replenish your body with the liquids it loses throughout the day:
- Drink water in the morning: If you’re feeling tired in the morning even after a good night’s sleep, you’re probably just dehydrated. Drink a glass of water right after you wake up to kick-start your morning in a better mood.
- Drink water before going to bed: Drinking water before going to bed will aid your body’s detoxification process.
- Drink water during and after exercise: During an intensive work-out session your body loses liquids at a higher rate and your thirst instinct may not kick-in immediately, so make sure you have a bottle of water at hand when you’re exercising.
- Drink water 30 minutes before a meal: Water aids in constipation problems by softening the stool, so drinking water before a meal can help relieve constipation related problems.
- Rely on other sources of hydration as well: Water isn’t the only way to replenish lost fluids in your body. Fruit and vegetables make up as much as 20% of our fluid intake. Therefore, if you’re not always in the mood to drink water, you can drink fresh juices or eat fruit and vegetables.
- Drink more water in times of an illness: Whether it’s the flue, diarrhoea or a urinary tract infection that you’re battling with, drinking water will help in regulating your body temperature, supplementing lost fluids, and flushing out bacteria from your urinary tract relieving the unpleasant symptoms associated with an UTI.
- Drink water when you consume alcoholic beverages: Alcohol is a powerful diuretic (with every glass of alcohol you have, your body can expel up to four times more liquids). If you want to avoid a bad hangover after overindulging in alcohol, make sure to supplement your water intake.
- Drink water whenever you feel thirsty: You should never override your thirst instinct as it’s your body’s way of letting you know that it needs more water.
What happens if you don’t drink enough water?
When your body loses water, your thirst instinct kicks in. Dehydration occurs when your body is not getting enough water, either because you’re too focused on something else to notice that you’re feeling thirsty – something which commonly happens with small children – or because you’re losing fluids at a much higher rate than your body can take in (e.g. in cases of prolonged bouts of vomiting or diarrhoea).
Your body has several ways of signaling that you are dehydrated. Signs of dehydration include:
- Dry mouth and nose;
- Fatigue, dizziness, headache;
- Decreased frequency in urination or no urine output at all;
- Dark, cloudy urine;
- Decreased coordination and unstable blood pressure;
- Seizures, fever, and even coma in severe cases.
It’s important to drink more water as soon as you notice early signs of dehydration (e.g. dry mouth) and seek immediate medical attention in cases of moderate to severe dehydration.
Is there such thing as drinking too much water?
While the effects of severe dehydration can be fatal, water intoxication can also wreak havoc in your body. We are constantly encouraged to drink more water, which in some cases can lead to over-hydration.
The scientific term for water intoxication is hyponatremia, which translates to “lack of sufficient salt in the body”. Indeed, when you drink too much water, sodium levels in your body go down, which can lead to the rupture and swelling of your cells because of the abundance of liquid in your body. The swelling of brain cells can have fatal consequences, therefore, make sure you avoid drinking too much water on a dare or engaging in water drinking competitions, or drinking litres of water in a short amount of time.
Signs of water intoxication include:
- Headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea;
- Fatigue, problems concentrating, muscle weakness;
- Restlessness and irritability;
- Frequent urination, etc.
Water intoxication is a serious condition that requires immediate medical treatment.
What about water quality? Does it matter what type of water you drink?
The amount of water and the frequency at which you consume water are not the only things conducive to a healthy hydration. The quality of the water you drink cannot be neglected either.
As a general rule, fizzy, sugary drinks should be avoided since they can do more harm than good. Their high sugar content and the artificial flavours packed into them have no benefits to your body. Sticking to regular flat or sparkling water is the best way to get hydrated.
If you rely on tap water, you might want to get it tested to see if it contains any contaminants that you need to avoid (high chlorine levels, fluoride levels, bacteria, heavy metals, pesticides, toxins, etc.). You may also want to consider filtering your tap water to remove any chemicals and impurities, and enjoy tap water without worrying about any of the harmful effects it may have.
If you’re a fan of bottled water, you should also consider switching to filtered tap water. You’ll be doing a favour both to your budget and the environment. Drinking filtered tap water can also mean an improvement for your health, since tap water goes through a more thorough monitoring than bottled water, and filtration adds an extra layer of protection to safeguard your health.
Responding to your thirst instinct will generally keep you safe from dehydration, but certain circumstances (e.g. intensive physical exercise, illnesses) will require you to supplement your water intake. Relying on filtered water instead of regular tap water or bottled water is a sure-fire way to make sure that you are on the right track to a healthy hydration.