How to Tell if You're Not Drinking Enough Water

Man holding water cup
successo images/Shutterstock
successo images/Shutterstock

Hydration is a more contentious subject than you might think. Despite what you've heard, the "eight glasses a day" recommendation doesn't really have much merit -- in fact, you can comfortably go up to a gallon daily and be just fine, if not in better health than you ever were before. 

So water is good for you, duh. But outside of total dehydration, what are some signs that you might not be giving your body the H2O it needs? 

Your skin dries out

Lips feeling chapped? You're likely dehydrated. Pinch the skin on the back of your hand. If it looks and stays like a tent (it's literally called "tenting") and takes its time going back to normal, you guessed it: drink more water. Other dehydration indicators include brittle nails, a sticky feeling in your eyes, and dry mouth.

"When the body is dehydrated for any reason, the skin, which is the largest organ of the body, can show signs of depletion. The skin appears dull and lacks the snap or turgor that it should have," says Dr. Mirwat Sami, adding, "The mouth will be dry, saliva will be decreased in quantity, and the lips can appear chapped. Also, the eyes will be dry with decreased tear production, that is the normal baseline tears to lubricate the eyeball will be decreased."

Cramped leg

You get cramps and charley horses

One of the most painful temporarily debilitating feelings is a charley horse, which is a type of cramp. If you've played sports in the summer, you know that cramps are especially hellacious and virtually impossible to stop once they've started. 

Dr. Larry Burchett advises hydration and electrolytes: "Mild to moderate electrolyte imbalances can cause muscle cramps. When I see cramps, I commonly think of low potassium and magnesium. When [you] rehydrate and replace those electrolytes, the cramps get better."

You feel hot all the time

Water is essential for body-temperature regulation, so lack of it causes an inability to keep your cool, according to Dr. Arielle Levitan. "Lack of water causes overheating because your body loses its ability to regulate temperature properly as your blood becomes more concentrated. Less blood flow takes away your body's normal means of losing heat -- sweating, dilating blood vessels so the heat moves to the surface rather than staying deep inside your body."

Constipated man on toilet

You can't poop

Feeling backed up? Grab that water bottle, and hopefully you'll get back to feeling like Jamie Lee Curtis after some yogurt.

"Dehydration can also lead to constipation," Dr. Burchett confirms. "Our intestines need water to digest food and move waste through. I have seen tons of patients who are constipated largely from inadequate water intake. Often they don't need a laxative, they just need more water. I think of water as lubrication for the intestines."

You generally feel like trash

You know that feeling when you have some sort of indeterminate illness that knocks you out for a few days, and you just call it a cold or flu? Lack of water might just be a cause of some of those symptoms. Headaches and sleepiness. Achiness, lethargy, and general grossness. That's all because blood volume and blood pressure drop when you're dehydrated, then muscle and nerve functions slow, and thus, fatigue sets in.

According to Dr. Hanson Lenyoun, "Dehydration can negatively impact your physical and mental performance. Impacts have been seen on endurance, recovery time, motivation, mood, attention, memory, energy levels, and even skin appearance and immune system function." Basically, every system in your body depends on water, so it makes sense that you could feel like a rotting compost heap if you don't drink enough.

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Carson Quinn is a writer based in Indianapolis who after writing this story chugged a bottle of water. Ahhhhh. Follow her on Twitter @NewsCarson and Facebook.