Hydration-Drinking for Thinking

Hydration, not the most exciting of the four foundations for learning. How can hydration compete with exercise?  Exercise really gets the heart pumping.    Nutrition is also a bit more interesting. Frankly, it has more texture.  Now, you would think that hydration could beat sleep for excitement, . . . . . but not when you’re a parent.

Water is the driving force of all nature.  Leonardo da Vinci

Hydration, the step-child of nutrition, is important, even if it is not exciting.  Our bodies are made up mostly of fluid and this accounts for over half of our body weight.  Our brain floats in fluid. We know that even mild dehydration can lead to physical problems ranging from headaches to faintness to a weak rapid pulse.   However, did you realize that a mere 1-2% decrease in optimal hydration can result in drops in cognitive performance?  And while cognitive skills decline, irritability is shown to go up.  And this will happen before you even feel thirsty (in fact, feeling thirsty means you are more than a little dehydrated).

So hydration is important. Luckily, we can hydrate on the fly (whereas I really think we should sit for meals).  Whether you are a sipper or a gulper, hydration does not take much more preparation than a faucet and a cup.  If you use one of those no-drip sippy cups, odds are you won’t have to clean up spills.

How much, how often?  The popular rule of thumb is 8 glasses of water a day, but there is actually no research or foundation behind that.  I doubt most adults get that much water in a day.  And that amount might fill a small child up to his eyebrows.  How do you know if you are properly hydrated?  It’s all in the pee.  The well-hydrated person has to pee every 2-3 hours (unless they are a camel).  Also, the urine should be very pale.  Shoot for that.  Have your kids drink, sip or slurp something frequently enough so they have to go to the bathroom every few hours.  If you are lucky enough to have kids who forget to flush, you can check for paleness. (Another exciting parenting goal.)

Children (and adults) should drink more frequently when involved in athletic activity.  Not only should they have something healthy to drink before starting to play, they should take a few sips from a water bottle during each break (such as between innings), more if they sweat heavily or if it is hot or humid.

And what counts as a healthy, hydrating fluid?  Water, of course, is best for everyday hydration. If this is made a habit for the whole family, then that is a great habit.  Water breaks a few times a day will be perfect.  But frankly and truthfully, most liquids can count as hydrating, including soups, watermelon, and other really drippy foods.  Lettuce even has a lot of water in it and counts as hydrating.

For some of us, water is Boring with a capital B. We forget to sip without a little teaser, something to draw us in.  Luckily, although water is best for routine hydration, there are some feasible alternatives for giving the fluids a little flair:

  • For myself, soda water (not soda) takes care of that problem.  A few bubbles and I am more interested.  A splash of pineapple juice and I am thrilled (but I am easy that way).
  • Water with a splash of juice or lemonade.  If your kids are stuck on full strength juice, lemonade or juice drinks, do a slow transition.  Start with juice with a little water and slowly move to water with a little juice.
  • Fruit teas are great.  If your kids are not used to lots of sweetener in their drinks, they will likely find fruit teas plenty sweet enough.  There are loads of flavors to choose from.
  • Green teas and black teas can be a source of fluids, but can also be a source of caffeine.  Don’t mess with the other foundation-sleep.
  • Soup counts.
  • Juice and milk can be a source of fluids, but are not as good as the “plainer” fluids.  Juice also adds sugar.  Sugar is hard on the stomach if you are dehydrated.  I am only talking store-bought juice. If you are a juicer who throws a cucumber, a beet, an orange, an apple and some kale in the juicer, then go for it.
  • As mentioned above, high water foods, such as watermelon, tomatoes and lettuce, can be a source of fluids.
  • One word on a hot day – popcycles, popcicles,  popsicles, (or other frozen treats that are low in sugar)
  • Good quality sports drinks can be great for rehydration after exercise or active play, but there must be an emphasis on good quality.  Look for sports drinks that are not high in sugar or caffeine (yep, some have caffeine) and are low in artificial dyes.  Energy drinks are not sports drinks and are not recommended for kids and teens.  They can be very high in caffeine, other stimulants, and sugar.

There are two basic types of drinkers- gulpers and sippers.  The Queen (my daughter) is a gulper.  I am a sipper.  If you have sippers, make sure they have plenty of opportunities for sipping throughout the day.  The sippers often do not mind carrying a water bottle in their back pack. Given that the Queen is a gulper, I have to make sure she has something good to gulp at each meal and right after school.  I cross my fingers on school days during lunch.  Surprisingly, she likes to sip at night, so she sleeps with a water bottle by her bed.

So, in closing, remember that dehydration is one more item on your list of things that can make your child cranky and unable to concentrate.  Sure, they may need a snack, a break or a nap, but they may also simply need a drink.  Build and encourage good habits of hydration.  Point out that all living things need water to survive and even more to thrive.  Be a good role model.  Since children think sipping a parent’s drink is a treat, make sure you have something to share.  That backwash of drool in your cup is just one more rite of parenting.


Some people drink from the fountain of knowledge, others just gargle.  Robert Anthony

Drink deeply.


the rusty
Pump pumps over your sweating face the clear …
Water, cold, so cold! you cup your hands
And gulp from them the dailiness of life.
  Randall Jarrell, Poet