Here’s How Your Body Tells You That You’re Not Drinking Enough Water

Photo: Stocksy/Irina Efremova
Fact: The human body is made up of nearly 60 percent water. It relies on water for breathing, digestion, lubricating joints, removing waste, brain functioning, communication, and keeping everything running smoothly—essentially, every bodily function. When you're not drinking enough water, or if your body is losing more water than it's taking in, dehydration is likely. Unfortunately, the results of dehydration can cause both immediate and longer-term complications, says Adam Brittain, MD, a senior physician at WorldClinic.

Whether you realize it or not, you're losing water all day and all night long—some when you sweat or cry, more when you pee, and even a little with every breath you take. As such, it's recommended to sip on water consistently throughout the day in order to maintain your hydration levels and prevent early dehydration symptoms (more on those below). Ahead we delve into the telltale signs that your body might be telling you that you're not drinking enough water. Plus, how much water you should be drinking to avoid dehydration, and what to do if you simply can't stand the taste of plain ol' water alone.

Experts In This Article
  • Adam Brittain, MD, Adam Brittain, MD, is an Internal Medicine physician at the Texas Medical Center and serves as a Hospitalist with the Medical Center Hospitalist Associates.
  • Erika Schwartz, MD, doctor of disease prevention and founder of Evolved Science

How can you tell if you're not drinking enough water?

According to Dr. Brittain and functional medicine expert Erika Schwartz, MD, your body actually does a very good job of warning you that you are not drinking enough water or putting yourself at risk of mild dehydration. This is especially reassuring considering that dehydration can lead to negative outcomes such as lowering blood flow and oxygen to the brain, which in turn causes inflammation. As such, preventing dehydration should be top of mind (literally).

So, what happens to your body when you don't drink enough water? Not drinking enough water can cause a slew of symptoms, but the most common include headaches, brain fog or confusion, fatigue, mood swings, lightheadedness, and dizziness. Additionally, Dr. Schwartz adds that since water plays such an important role in lubricating your joints and muscles, a lack of water can also cause you to experience joint pains and stiffness or cramping in your muscles and ligaments. In addition to the aforementioned, some other dehydration side effects include dry mouth and skin, increased thirst, and darker, more concentrated urine (and less of it). In serious cases, dehydration can cause chest pain and low blood pressure.

The key takeaway here? Keeping all of the above symptoms top of mind is vital to recognizing whether or not you're drinking enough water. For instance, if you start feeling an unnerving muscle cramp or headache come on when you're in the middle of a run or beach day, don't pop an Advil and keep going. Instead you'll want to pause, and consider whether or not you've consumed enough fluids in the last few hours, and give your body the adequate hydration it requires.

How much water is ideal to drink per day?

While listening to your body and drinking when you feel thirsty is important and can successfully prevent dehydration for some folks, it may not be the best measurement to gauge whether or not you've actually fulfilled your body's water needs in a day. That's to say, keeping more precise track of how much water you've actually consumed throughout the day can more accurately ensure adequate hydration (and prevent signs of dehydration).

According to the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, an adequate daily fluid intake for a healthy adult living in a temperate climate is about 11.5 cups a day for women and 15.5 cups for men. However, these quantities should only be considered benchmarks, as these numbers can differ depending on several factors, such as how much you exercise, the environment in which you live, and other preexisting health conditions. (Dr. Schwartz even goes as far as to recommend drinking 1/2 your body weight in ounces of water, but again, this can all depend on so many factors.) More simply, you should drink water often, and always when you're thirsty. And when in doubt, it's best to speak with a health professional to ensure you're consuming the appropriate amounts of water for your specific needs.

What to do if you don't enjoy drinking water?

Keep in mind, however, that drinking water is not the only way to stay adequately hydrated, which can be especially good news if sipping on a big ol' glass of H2O isn't your favorite activity. Fruits and vegetables with high water content are a great way to keep your systems in tip-top shape as well. Produce like broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, watermelon, and grapes are all high in water content.

Plus, there are tons of ways to spruce up a boring glass of water. Some of our favorites include options like cinnamon water that adds anti-inflammatory benefits to the drink. "Adding cinnamon to your water is not only hydrating and delicious, it can also supply an array of health benefits, such as: delivering antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer properties, supporting heart health, and lowering cholesterol," celebrity chef and nutritionist Serena Poon, previously shared with Well+Good.

If you engage in exercise frequently, you may also want to consider trying hydrogen water, which is created when extra hydrogen molecules from dissolved hydrogen gas are added into regular drinking water. The added hydrogen content in the water (and less oxygen) can confer antioxidant benefits and potentially improve athletic performance, experts say. Another simple, yet effective (and potentially more flavorful) way to boost hydration is by consuming coconut water. The beverage is packed with electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium, essential to regulating pH levels, keeping you well-hydrated, and controlling muscle contraction. All of which can help with recovery after a rigorous workout.

Looking for a more chill bev? Drinking lemon water before bed can offer some perks for boosting hydration. While keeping in mind that the true benefits of lemon water have been a tad bit overblown the last few years, the drink does contain some levels of vitamin C that can help boost immunity and has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory properties. (For context, one tablespoon of lemon juice contains about 10 milligrams of vitamin C—and most adults need 75 to 90 milligrams of vitamin C per day.)

Last but not least, water sommeliers agree that not all water is created equal, and they do, in fact, taste different from one another. (So, the reason why you don't like that one type of bottled water is not all in your head). In turn, some of the best bottled waters for maximum hydration are not only the ones that taste best to you and encourage you to drink more water throughout the day, but also ones that naturally contain essential nutrients. In other words, water from natural sources that contain electrolytes (as opposed to distilled or purified water) are what you should be using to fill up the best gym water bottle for your next workout sesh.

In short, Dr. Schwartz and Dr. Brittain both say that your body knows how to tell you that you're not drinking enough water. The trick is a matter of making sure you're listening to it, but with all of these enticing and super-hydrating options to choose from the task should be a little easier. Can't we all agree?

A registered dietitian shares a guide to some of the most hydrating foods in the produce section:

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