What Happens to Your Brain When You Are Dehydrated

The beneficial properties of water regarding complete health are basic knowledge. From regulating digestive system to temperature to keeping your blood flowing, our bodies need water to survive. Dehydration is a condition where our bodies have lost significant amounts of water. It can be caused by vomiting or diarrhea and symptoms can range from dry mouth to fatigue.

When we feel thirsty, that is the brain signaling that your body has lost water and is entering a stage of being dehydrated. But there are other adverse effects too, some of which can cause serious harm. Your brain needs water to function at all levels and without proper hydration, there can be dangerous consequences.

Increased Pain Sensitivity

When our bodies are dehydrated, we might feel heavier and more sluggish. But pain sensations can be heightened. Dehydration can actually lower a person’s pain threshold (how quickly their brain reacts to pain stimuli).

Brain Shrinks

It might be fairly unknown, but a lack of water causes the actual brain to shrink. Dehydration limits how well our brains can function and shrinking helps conserve energy. The associated dehydration headaches are a telltale sign of this happening. A British study in 2013 found that a smaller brain can also lead to mood disorders and contribute to sleepiness and confusion.

Lowered Body Regulation

The importance of having the right hydration for brain function can be seen on our bodies. Without water, the brain cannot regulate temperature or the processes needed to produce the liquids that keep the skin, mouth, and eyes moist. This is evidenced by dry skin, a dryer feeling in the mouth and even brittle hair. Internally, the brain cannot regulate the cardiovascular system, leading to heart conditions and a rapid heartbeat.

Lowered Cognition

Dehydration doesn’t just slow down our bodies but it also slows down our minds. During this condition, our brains devote more energy and are forced to work harder. The result of which is increased fatigue, poor concentration, lack of focus and a decrease in motor skills.

Even our understanding of what constitutes a hard or complex task is affected by dehydration even before we attempt to do it. Some doctors and those who practice alternative medicine recommended eating high-water-content foods and/or drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of pure water per day to keep hydrated.

Poor Memory

Recalling information is something simple that is often overlooked as a key brain process. Without proper hydration levels, our memories suffer. Completing tasks from making phone calls to just holding conversation requires our brains to react quickly and dehydration can slow this process.

Driving Impairment

Losing large amounts of water can severely impact your ability to operate machinery or drive. Much like being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, your brain cannot fully process the necessary steps. Less water means less blood circulation to the brain, the result of which leads to lowered response times and alertness—two critical things needed when driving.

Research conducted to test the effects of dehydration on drivers found that, on average, the number of driving mistakes doubled. These numbers were similar to the results of driving while drunk.


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