Is it just me, or does everyone else drink way more water during the work day, but then just…stops drinking once they get home? Personally, I always forget to drink water unless there is a cup sitting right in front of my face—which is possible at my desk, not so much in my small apartment. When I posed this question to my colleagues at Well+Good, some people also said they purposefully drink less in the evening because they hate getting up in the middle of the night to pee.
These hydration struggles made me wonder if there was any issue with cutting off water intake at night, provided you’re drinking a lot during the day. Just like how intermittent fasting proposes that eating during specific time windows has particular health benefits (of the brain-boosting, metabolism-enhancing variety), could keeping your water intake to certain times of the day be similarly helpful? Could “intermittent hydration” be the wellness trend we were all sleeping on and no one knew it?
Turns out, the truth was a bit more complicated than that. Here’s what experts had to say about my thirsty questions:
Is there a best time to drink water?
Basically, the best time to drink water is all day long. “Your body auto-regulates, so if you drank three liters of fluid, within a couple hours, your body will have gotten rid of the extra fluid,” says Thomas Jarrett, MD. So drinking a ton of water in the morning and expecting that to last you to the next day (aka my “intermittent hydration” theory) won’t cut it. “You can’t roll over hydration,” he says.
And drinking too much at a time can also be bad for your kidneys, says Torey Armul, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “The kidneys can only eliminate so much fluid at a time,” she says. “They can only get rid of about three and a half to four cups of fluid per hour.” If you drink more than that per hour, you can also disrupt your body’s fluid and sodium balance.
Both Armul and Jarrett recommend spacing out your water intake evenly throughout the day, because if you wait until you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. The average woman needs about nine cups of water a day, Armul says, while men need 13. But that number goes up if you’re, say, sick or working out. (The best way to judge hydration though is not by cups of water—it’s by how often you pee. The sweet spot is every two to three hours.)
Even if you’re on a rest day, physically active people still need more water than the average person. Angela Lemond, RDN, CSP, LD, says fit people have more muscle and lean tissue, so they’re more metabolically active meaning they have overall higher fluid and energy needs.
But what if I’m a bedtime pee-r? What should I do?
Armul also recognizes the need for some people to taper off their fluid intake before bed, even though waking up to pee probably has more to do with stress and anxiety. “I have to go at least one time a night and if I drink a lot at dinner, it’s two times a night and that can be very disruptive,” says Armul. She says she typically stops drinking water about three hours before bed.
“Of course if you’re thirsty, you’re better off listening to your body,” Armul says. “I think it’s more damaging to go to bed dehydrated than to wake up.”
Lemond adds that a heavy dinner can also make you wake up to pee. “Thirty percent of our fluid can come from food,” she says. (Think: Watermelon, leafy vegetables, even coffee all have water.) “There are a lot of people back ending a lot of their eating at night. And so you have to realize it’s not just a physical fluid that’s in our glasses that your body’s processing. It’s the fluid that’s in the food.” To mitigate this, Armul recommends having meals that are more calorically balanced throughout the day instead of ending the day with a massive meal.
You should always rehydrate during a work out, even if it’s close to bedtime. “If you’ve [just ]exercised and you rehydrate it shouldn’t make you stay up all night,” Dr. Jarrett says. “You’re just replacing what your body had—it’s not extra water, it’s just replacement.”
I’m terrible about remembering to drink water. What should I do?
OK, so we should all be drinking water consistently all day as much as possible. If you’re like me and you’re bad at remembering to hydrate, Armul recommends having physical reminders, like using a sticky note or phone alarm to keep you on track. “I liked to drink more with a straw I’ve found,” Armul says. “So I have straw, like a nice big water bottle at home, and I keep it in the fridge so it’s cold, and it has the big straw, so I get a lot of water every time I’m sipping on it.”
Lemond says having a water bottle that holds around 32 ounces of water keeps you from having to refill too often, so it may help you drink more consistently. One of her faves is from YETI because it also keeps the water cool.
Welp, I’m def dehydrated, so I’m gonna go refill my glass—you probs should too. Cheers!
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