If you are keen to maintain top performance at work, one small step can make a surprisingly big difference.
Do you get up and walk to the water cooler when you are thirsty? Most people do, and if you are one of them, then you are leaving it too late.
The problem is that we don’t start to feel thirsty until we are already dehydrated, and by then, our mental and physical performance is already impaired. Even mild dehydration can have significant effects, as researchers from the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Connecticut found.
A team led by Professor Lawrence Armstrong exposed two health and active groups, one of 26 young men (average age 20 years) and one of 25 young women (average age 23 years), to a series of mental tests on three occasions.
When they compared their results with control samples who were not dehydrated, the findings were clear. In two papers, looking respectively at the impacts on men and women, the researchers found slightly different effects on each, but the overall picture is clear.
If you are a man, then you can expect slight dehydration to result in added difficulties with mental tasks, particularly with alertness and use of your working memory. The men in the study showed greater levels of tension, anxiety and fatigue when mildly dehydrated.
If you are a woman, it seems you can expect little or no reduction in your ability to think when mildly dehydrated, but you will find it harder to concentrate and perceive tasks as more difficult. You will also experience headaches and greater fatigue.
How much water you need to drink to stay fully hydrated depends on your situation: how warm is it, how much effort are you putting in (physical and mental), and how dry is the atmosphere – many air conditioned buildings are very dry. Doctors recommend you check the colour of your urine to monitor hydration, with a very pale yellow being optimal.
But the pee-test is a lagging indicator and somewhat imprecise. Your brain is acutely sensitive to your hydration levels and operates on your actions at an unconscious level. To spur you into interrupting your work and getting up to get some water, it needs to reach a threshold of dehydration. But you can do far better than that.
Put a glass of water within reach. Unconsciously, you will take a sip whenever your brain feels the need. A glass of water on your desk lowers the barrier to action and will therefore enable you to stay more effectively hydrated and therefore a more effective thinker.
J Nutr. 2012 Feb;142(2):382-8.
Mild dehydration affects mood in healthy young women.
Armstrong LE1, Ganio MS, Casa DJ, Lee EC, McDermott BP, Klau JF, Jimenez L, Le Bellego L, Chevillotte E, Lieberman HR.
Br J Nutr. 2011 Nov;106(10):1535-43.
Mild dehydration impairs cognitive performance and mood of men.
Ganio MS1, Armstrong LE, Casa DJ, McDermott BP, Lee EC, Yamamoto LM, Marzano S, Lopez RM, Jimenez L, Le Bellego L, Chevillotte E, Lieberman HR.
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