A few nights ago, when I woke up at 3:30 in the morning for that usual middle-of-the-night trip to the bathroom, I realized that my heart was racing and felt kind of fluttery. Not an insane 200 beats per minute and I-couldn’t-breathe racing, but still fast for me…and weird.
My “monkey mind” started its own racing worrying about what was going on. After several hours of deep breathing, I got my heart rate down to 80 beats per minute (bpm) plus or minus, even though my target is about 60 bpm. With the help of my smart watch, I ruled out heart attack, atrial fibrillation and COVID, leaving me with a foolish case of dehydration.
Why foolish when dehydration actually is very serious? After fainting last year from dehydration, you’d think I would be more careful, but apparently I haven’t learned my lesson yet…nor have I realized that at 62 years old, my body actually may be changing and so I need to be more aware of and adapt to its physiological shifts.
So let’s talk about dehydration. It’s real, and it can be very serious.
Hundreds of thousands of patients go to the emergency room each year because they are dehydrated. This is especially true among people ages 65 and older because their sensation of thirst is reduced and their water/sodium balance has shifted—that can affect all body systems. Also in older people, water as a percentage of their body weight is reduced.
Not only does dehydration cause harm, it harms quickly. While it takes several weeks to die of starvation, without water, the body will cease to function in just four days…and long before death, dehydration will adversely affect brain function, digestive function and, as I experienced, cardiac function.
If even I—madam healthy eating/healthy living—fell into the trap, I think it is a good idea to review the symptoms to watch for. I’ve already mentioned a few—increased heart rate and headache. Here are some others that are less obvious but that you should be alert to…
Do any of these sound familiar to you? I know so many people who complain about fatigue or foggy thinking, and I wonder how many of them actually just need more water. And then there are those who aren’t happy with their weight but say they can’t help but eat sweets. How many problems are we creating for ourselves that can simply be prevented or fixed with a glass of water instead of NSAIDs for headaches or muscle pain and an array of medications for mood disorders?
Just by drinking adequate levels of water, researchers have found improvement in so many common, everyday complaints…
Joint pain—water helps lubricate joints and preserve the cushioning in them.
Energy—water oxygenates the entire body, improving energy
Skin—water prevents wrinkles and improves skin’s appearance
Brain focus, memory and mood
So simple and yet so elusive.
The obvious questions are…Why don’t people drink more? Why do they let themselves become dehydrated?
For me, it was my own fault. I usually drink extra water for several days before I head out to the Colorado mountains, where this episode occurred and where I also fainted last year. This time I didn’t. I drank a lot the day I arrived, but I didn’t keep it up. The combination of dry air, high altitude and summer heat, each of which increases the rate of water loss, created my own personal nightmare.
For most people I think there are two underlying things putting them at risk…
They don’t realize it’s happening. They think they’re drinking water, but it simply is not enough, especially in the summer heat…or if he/she is older…taking certain medications…has diabetes or prediabetes…etc.
They “don’t like water” and instead drink flavored drinks infused with sugar or artificial sweeteners. These may provide fluids, but if you drink only these beverages, you will create other health challenges such as weight gain and diabetes. Imagine drinking two quarts of juice or soda a day!
Ready to hydrate? Expert opinions vary widely on this. Many say that you should drink half your body weight in ounces each day (e.g., a 160-pound person should drink 80 ounces), while the Mayo Clinic has a much higher target—approximately 92 ounces per day for women and 124 for men. Of course, requirements vary depending on your body size, age, activity level, where you live and how much water-rich fruits and vegetables you eat each day.
While there are those who now challenge the eight eight-ounce glasses of water each day, that has been the rule of thumb for many years. It is a good baseline target, and you can adjust based on your lifestyle.
Even eight glasses can sound like a lot if you drink only with meals. It is far better to drink throughout the day…in fact, one theory is that too much liquid during meals dilutes stomach acid and can reduce your ability to fully digest your food.
Need a reminder? Set an alert for once an hour. I’ve actually gone total tech-geek and added a water reminder app to my phone. I’ve been using it for several days and have hit my 92-ounce goal each day. I never would have done that if I weren’t tracking.
If you don’t want to deal with timers and reminders, another option is to fill a container with your daily water quota each morning and empty it by bedtime.
Ready to take the plunge?