Feeling irritable? Foggy-headed? Fatigued?
In the colder, darker months, you might chalk these feelings up to a mild case of seasonal affective disorder. But the real culprit might be something that’s much easier to fix: winter dehydration.
Yes, even when the temperature drops, you still need to ensure you’re drinking enough water throughout the day. Dehydration occurs when your body loses more fluid than it takes in – and winter dehydration may be a bigger problem than people realize.
Here’s what you should know if you want to stay happy, healthy, and hydrated this winter.
A study from the University of New Hampshire found that your chance of dehydration actually increases during the colder months. Since people don’t feel as thirsty when the temperature drops, many forget to drink enough water. In lower temperatures, bodies also have to work harder under the weight of heavier clothes, and sweat evaporates quickly in cold, dry air.
“When it’s cold outside, people forget about hydration,” Elizabeth Hill, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Intermountain Healthcare told KUTV News. “They find they’ve gone all day without drinking much water. Beverages like coffee, sodas or hot chocolate don’t help with hydration, and actually can dehydrate the body more than drinking nothing at all.”
And dehydration carries harmful consequences.
The American Heart Association notes that even minor dehydration can account for difficulty concentrating, poor memory, and bad moods. Those who chronically consume less water are at a higher risk of developing more serious health issues, such as kidney disease, kidney stones, and diabetes.
Dehydration may manifest differently from person to person, but recognizing the symptoms will help alert you to when your body needs more water. The symptoms of dehydration in adults include:
- Thirst. Naturally, if you’re thirsty, your body is telling you it needs water. However, thirst isn’t always an indicator of dehydration -- many people can be dehydrated without being thirsty.
- Dark-colored urine. If your urine is dark yellow or amber-colored, that’s a good indication that you’re not drinking enough. Aim for a light-yellow, close-to-clear color. (Note: consistently clear urine may indicate you’re drinking too much water, which can rob your body of electrolytes.)
- Sweating or urinating less frequently. Most people urinate between six to 10 times a day and sweat during vigorous exercise. If this doesn’t happen for you, it’s probably time to drink more water.
- Fatigue. Your body needs water in order to function well -- whether you’re working out or working at the office. If you’re feeling sluggish, you may be dehydrated.
- Dry mouth. A dry mouth indicates that your salivary glands aren’t producing enough saliva.
- Dry skin. Signs of dehydrated skin include dark under-eye circles, itchiness, dullness, fine lines, and wrinkles.
- Headaches. Dehydration headaches happen when the brain temporarily contracts from fluid loss, causing pain as it pulls away from the skull.
- Sugar cravings. When you’re dehydrated, your body may struggle to break down glycogen and release glucose to your bloodstream. This leads to cravings for sugar, chocolate, and other sweet treats.
Symptoms of dehydration for infants and young children may look a little different. Learn more about dehydration in infants.
You might think the key to avoiding winter dehydration is fairly simple. (“Umm … drink more water?”) But there’s more to it than that. Even someone who drinks water constantly throughout the day may still be dehydrated. To minimize your risk of dehydration in the wintertime, here are some suggestions:
- Carry water with you. Since you can’t rely on thirst alone to tell you when you’re dehydrated, it’s a good idea to have water handy throughout the day.
- Monitor your water intake. The amount of water you need to drink each day varies from person to person. Hill recommends drinking half your body weight in fluid ounces each day. (For example: a 150-pound person would need to drink 75 ounces.)
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Maximize your hydration by eating water-rich foods such as apples, celery, lettuce, and cucumber.
- Drink healthy hot beverages. If drinking cold water in the wintertime doesn’t sound appealing, opt for healthy, warmer alternatives (e.g., green tea, cinnamon tea.)
- Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks. These beverages can actually cause dehydration.
- Wear layers. Don’t overdo it on the warm clothing. Wearing layers can help you regulate your body temperature and minimize water loss from perspiration.
The effects of dehydration can vary from mild to life-threatening. You should visit the emergency room if you or a loved one exhibit any of these symptoms:
- Fever above 103 degrees Fahrenheit
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest or stomach pain
Thanks to technology, tracking your daily water intake has never been easier. Healthline recommends these apps to help you monitor how much water you’re drinking.
If you prefer a non-technological approach, simply buy a water jug with measurements on the side. (Just remember to refill it so you can reach your recommended daily intake.)
Knowing the signs of dehydration, monitoring your water intake, and taking proactive steps to stay hydrated will help ensure that you stay healthy all winter long.