In my poet’s mind, human beings are a reflection of planet earth. Seventy percent of our planet is covered by water, and somewhere between 60-75 percent of the composition of our own physical bodies is water. Just as our planet needs to be constantly replenished with clean, fresh water in order to thrive, so indeed do we.
You probably know that the trillions of cells in our bodies contain and bathe in water, but did you ever picture what this looks like? As a writer, I think in metaphors, often understanding something complex in a flash of intuition from seeing a picture. So when I began musing about how to create a way to help you truly understand the importance of water for your body, I began browsing Google images for ideas.
I was thinking about our cells, putting myself in their place as they went about doing all their good work, wondering how they felt about our often blatant disregard as evidenced by not providing them with the water they require. The image of a water theme park came to mind, so I searched Google and there it was, the perfect image of our cells struggling for enough water and space to do their work. This is a picture taken at a Chinese water park. Think of each brightly colored inner tube as a human cell.
What are our cells trying to do and why do they need so much water?
Well, it is water that carries the nutrients to our cells and helps them flush out toxins. Look at that little pink inner tube in the lower left with all that wonderful water around it – how happy he is to have so much room to do his work. On the right all the cells are crowded, some barely able to touch the water. How can they do their work in this crowded, water deprived environment?
Okay, so now you are shaking your head at this crazy lady who thinks inner tubes are cells – but tell me, did your relationship with the trillions of cells in your body shift just a little bit? If it did, then my craziness has paid off.
How many times have you been told that you need to drink at least 8 glasses of water a day? Too many to count, I’m sure. When I began researching insomnia, almost every one of the gazillion articles I skimmed that listed Sleep Tips included the admonition to drink water, to hydrate our bodies. And yet, do we?
What is the impact of dehydration on our bodies and minds?
I personally can’t ignore the evidence of dehydration and the impact it has on us, as my own personal experience seared this into my dried out brain in 2003, when I did the Avon Breast Cancer 60-mile walk in Boulder Colorado. This was the first one they held there, and they just weren’t prepared for the heat – three days of cloudless skies, walking on blacktop roads, temperatures over 100 degrees.
I followed the instructions — stopped at all the rest stations, drank the water and Gatorade, ate the lunch and snacks during the 20 mile walk each day. I watched as some of the women opted out and got on the buses that ran by us every half hour, but I had trained for this. My feet were okay, my body felt strong. I was Superwoman.
I made it through the third day. As I passed the finish I noticed a large group of women lined up at the medic tent. And then, as my adrenalin wore off, I began to feel dizzy and nauseous. Well, I thought, perhaps I should just go over and get something for this before I go to my tent. I made it to the line before I collapsed.
Inside the medic tent was like a war zone. Women throwing up, passed out, stumbling around in a haze of confusion. I started to shiver so hard I felt like my bones would break. It took four IV packets to rehydrate me enough to realize how totally crazed I was. Fortunately, I retained consciousness and no organs were damaged. Other women were not so lucky – a number of them went into comas and were ambulanced to the hospital.
So what happens when we don’t get enough hydration? At 1% dehydration we get thirsty. At 2% we feel anxious, and then fatigue, nausea and dizziness develop as we move toward 4%. At 6% we begin to lack coordination, to speak incoherently, eventually passing out. At 10% we need medical care as our cells are dying and our organs are beginning to be affected.
Interestingly enough, many of us are slightly dehydrated much of the time.
Our bodies lose the equivalent of over 8 glasses of water a day, and if we are not replacing this then we are dehydrated – maybe not enough to go to a medic tent, but the subtle effects of constant low level dehydration are there. We just need to look for them — headaches, impaired sleep, poor concentration, joint pain, sore eyes, heartburn, dry skin, lack of energy, constipation – these are some of the signals that our cells are being challenged just like those crowded little inner tubes. They can’t get the nutrition they need. They can’t help our body flush out toxins.
How much water are we really drinking?
I read a post by a fellow who finally got it, who finally said to himself, “I really need to drink more water each day.” Then his next thought was, “Hmmm, but I think I drink quite a bit just as part of my normal day.”
Aha, this is where we begin to get off track – we imagine that we are drinking more water than we really are. He decided it might be worth finding out how much he was really drinking, so he began keeping a log. Big surprise. He was not even drinking the equivalent of 4 full 8-ounce glasses of water a day. He needed at least 8 glasses to just replace what he lost each day. And – if he was exercising, getting overheated, living in air conditioning, or drinking alcohol and caffeine, he was losing more than that.
How can we truly change our habits regarding hydration? How can we stop saying, “I really need to drink more water” and actually just, well you know, drink more water?
Well, we could invent clever ways to get water into our bodies, use our imaginations to make getting enough water fun, like our feline friend here. But somehow I just don’t see us hanging over the shower door with the grace she exhibits. So we must look elsewhere.
As “dry” as it seems, we must take certain steps if we are to become hydrated, healthy, and happy sleepers. The first step is to figure out exactly how much water you really are drinking each day. Don’t push yourself to drink more – just record what you drink. If you are drinking from a water fountain at times, you need to do a little investigating to figure out how much you really are drinking. Use a cup or glass the next time you go to the water fountain.
You need to keep your log for a week, so you can get a good idea of what is really going on. The first few days you may drink more just because you are paying attention. That’s great, but don’t let this fool you. After a week, take a look and see what your average daily intake of water is. If it is enough, and you don’t have any symptoms of dehydration, then you can stop reading here.
Oh, by the way, how are you sleeping? Often we wake up during the night because we are dehydrated.
So, if you determine you need to drink more water, there are two ways to go. One is discipline, the other is desire. I don’t know about you, but desire wins over discipline as my preferred method. So I decided to focus on creating a powerful desire for water, one that pulls me toward it with joy rather than pushes me at it with dread.
What influences our desire?
Our thoughts, certainly. How about our senses? Of course. How does water taste to us? How does it smell? What does it look like, or remind us of? How do we perceive it – as a chore or as a pure delight?
I want water that tastes good to me. I remembered going to a spa where they had a big pitcher of water with cucumber slices in it. So for a treat, I sometimes put cucumbers in my water glass. I often put a little lemon wedge in my glass, which also provides electrolytes.
The next step for me was to create something visual – I needed something to draw me toward the water. As you see in the picture, my solution was to keep a beautiful blue bottle and a deep red glass near my computer monitor. The bottle is 20 oz, so I drink at least 3 of these each day. When the bottle is empty, I take a break to refill it. Simple, elegant, and portable. If I go out I take my bottle. If I travel, I take my bottle.
Here’s a summary of the steps to become “one who always drinks plenty of water” rather than “one who talks about needing to drink plenty of water.”
–Picture your little inner tube cells fighting for enough water. Remember how much your body needs it!
–Figure out how much water you are really drinking on a daily basis. Get the facts.
–Pay attention to the symptoms that you are not hydrated enough.
–Set your Intention to drink at least 8 full glasses of water per day.
–Figure out how to create water that tastes good to you.
–Find water bottles, glasses that appeal to you and keep them near you.
–It’s best not to drink liquids 1-2 hours before bedtime, for obvious reasons.
Here are some resources that may be helpful for you:
The Mayo Clinic has a nice website about the impact of water on our health: Mayo Clinic
This is my favorite book about the importance of drinking water: You’re Not Sick, You’re Thirsty!