Does Dehydration Ruin Your Sleep?

Yeah, it’s kind of another sleep post, but only because I’m really realizing just how important this is and just how much my sleep has, to be very frank, sucked. But this time it’s in reference to another factor that I sort of stumbled upon recently that I had never attached to taking a jaunt into slumberland:  dehydration.

drinking water to avoid dehydration

Water – it’s the stuff of life… and perhaps the stuff of better sleep!

That’s right, not drinking enough water or getting enough water in the diet. It’s really that simple.

I thought I’d been doing pretty well with the water thing. I was drinking about 3-4 glasses of water each day at work, with a couple drops of some lemon or peppermint essential oil dripped int for flavor and other benefits, and feeling pretty good. And I’ve read plenty of articles about how the focus on “oh, you have to  have 8 8-oz glasses of water a day and keep drinking it all day long!” was a load of junk once you were on a healthy diet (i.e. not the carb-laden Standard American Diet). A lot of that falls into the typical American attitude of “if a little is good for you, a lot must be better!” And that’s obviously not always correct.

But my world sort of went kablooie in that regard last weekend. I got a headache Friday that simply did not go away all weekend. It’d show up as I woke up, linger through the day, and then by night time it was gone or mostly gone, only to return the next morning. And I got sick of it. Needless to say my sleep was not great with headaches brewing all night long.

Then at one point on Saturday, I was thirsty. Not overly so, but enough that I went to get a drink of water. And I drank. And drank. And drank. What the heck, I thought? I usually get plenty of water… or so I thought.

I let it go at that point, and then on Sunday the same thing happened.

So Monday morning, I woke up with a slight headache, but not as bad as the previous couple of days. I went downstairs, filled up by 44-oz stainless steel bottle that I’ve had for years, and drank about half of it. By the time I finished with my morning meditation, the headache was gone. Done and done. Problem solved.

Only… it went further than that.

I brought my water bottle to work with me, full up of the water I needed. And as I was thirsty throughout the morning, I drank. By the time lunch rolled around, I’d finished it off.

Here’s what happened when I drank enough water:

  1. My sleep felt great last night. I am alert and ready to go today. The elapsed time of sleep on my Fitbit wasn’t any more than normal (taking into account how many times I was restless, and for how long, things like that), but I am wondering if my sleep quality was better. Unfortunately this is all anecdotal because I have no way of reading that data right now, but it sure seems pretty great.
  2. I had no cravings to eat all day at work. I wasn’t any more busy than normal to distract me from food, and I didn’t even realize it till this morning as I was getting my trail mix put together to bring to work. I’d eaten nothing but lunch yesterday and I was fine.
  3. No headache this morning – even when a storm has been moving in all last night and that’s when I usually have headache issues.
  4. I frequently have this little chapped lip and that’s gone away.  I’ll keep monitoring that, but chapped lips is a sign of dehydration (think chapped lips and people walking in the desert, if you read a lot of survival/adventure novels like I do).
  5. Just a general sense of well-being. Can’t beat that.

So yeah, a lot of this stuff is pretty anecdotal without some way to monitor things. Once I get something a little more detailed in its data-gathering than my Fitbit, I may do some experimenting to see what sorts of things happen when I mess with it a bit. But for now, I see no reason to not go ahead with what I’m doing with regard to more water in the day.

However, one of the things that happens with dehydration is that the membranes around the mouth, nose, and brain get dry – which is what leads to headaches.  As sinus issues are one of the factors (genetic and personal, in my case) I’m looking at for my sleep problems, this is sort of a no-brainer for me.

But what about the experts saying don’t get too much water?

So I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that while I think the water-naysayers aren’t necessarily wrong, it’s also possible to unwittingly go too far the other way.  I think I wasn’t getting enough, period. And that’s a problem just as much as getting too much.

The thinking here goes back to Paleo ideals, which as you know I’m all for. Water wasn’t readily available for people back in hunter-gatherer times, and that was okay because of the vast amounts of vegetable matter they were eating. Those veggies and occasional fruits contained lots of water. And when they did find clear water, they probably drank as much as they needed. A water source was probably key for them when they were setting up their camps, much like it’s a key thing for people in survival situations today.

Personally, I could probably stand to eat more plant food on a regular basis. I try to have some with every meal but I could certainly be ramping that up a bit.

For me, specifically, I sweat more than a lot of people (pardon the TMI).  I get warm really easily, and naturally I sweat to get rid of that heat. So perhaps even though I’m not constantly dripping with sweat (thank goodness), I’m still going through more water than most just by being active throughout the day at work – taking walks at lunch, doing burpees and stuff throughout the day, and just having a bit higher metabolism.

Now, you’ll hear people talk about hyponatremia and the problem of drinking too much water while you’re exercising. This frequently happens when people recommend drinking tons of water before you take on an event (something frequently called “pre-hydration”), and it can lead to illness or death.

That’s not what I’m talking about here. If you’re adequately hydrated the day before an event, you should be okay as long as you’re taking on a bit of water as you become thirsty during the race – drinking only enough to wet your mouth or get rid of dry throat if it’s really hot.

And besides, this is just about general day-to-day living, not an athletic event-driven idea. We may do a post on race-day prep later on and hydration will certainly take a part of that, but that’s not what we’re doing here.  Cool?

Now, first, let’s look at some of the symptoms of dehydration:

  1. Darker colored urine
  2. Feeling of thirst, chapped lips
  3. Feeling of hunger, despite eating relatively recently
  4. Fatigued or tired, but
  5. Headaches, loss of focus, and grumpiness

Well… hey. I don’t know about the urine thing, but the rest of those symptoms sure seem to hit home, right?  A lot of the stuff I just mentioned is on that list, big time.

My new dehydration-avoidance strategy:

So here’s what I’m looking at for my water-intake plan right now (yeah, I’m planning this so that I don’t drop the ball again) along with the reasons:

  1. Upon waking, drink 20 oz. of water or so, before doing anything else.
    – Want to refill my body of the water it used for its “nightly processing.” A ton of body and especially brain activity takes place at night, obviously, and so much of that activity involves water usage – which is why we usually have to pee when we wake up.
  2. Bring my 44-oz bottle of water to work, try to finish it before lunchtime (NLT 11:00).
    – Want to make sure that I’m getting what I need, especially after my morning coffee and whatever activity I do in the morning (run, train, etc.).
    – Also want to finish it up and pee out what I don’t need by the time I get to lunch, so that the water in my belly doesn’t disrupt proper digestion. Diluting your stomach acids with water makes digestion happen less optimally.  The recommendation I’ve read is to be done with drinking 30 minutes before you eat. I’m gonna go with an hour.
  3. After that’s done, chill out and just work through the rest of the day, sipping as necessarily. No chugging necessary here.
    – Don’t drink any more than necessary to avoid filling up with water to the point that you’re peeing at night and disrupting sleep.
  4. Frequently I’ll drink some mineral water with dinner or after work. I like the mineral content, particularly the magnesium, and the fizziness helps replace the desire for pop or beer or whatever. I like drinks with “texture” to them.

That’s the plan for a while. We’ll see how it goes. And naturally, I shall report back to tell you how things are going.

How about you? Has dehydration been a problem for you? Share your experiences on our message board, or comment below! 

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