Recently, I wrote an entry about how important it is for athletes to stay hydrated. I have been experiencing some headaches after some particularly rough exercise sessions that seemed to linger on long after I recovered. I did some research and found that most likely they are being caused by dehydration. In addition to the headache, I now realize I had other clear signs of dehydration such as fatigue, weakness, and dizziness.
After reading my blog entry, a K-12 colleague left me a comment about research showing that when a brain is slightly dehydrated it performs 10 percent to 15 percent more slowly. So, what does this mean for our kids/students?
Water makes up about 80 percent of the brain and is essential in neurological transmissions. Poor hydration affects mental performance and learning ability by reducing the brain’s ability to transmit and receive information. Studies show that once thirst is felt, mental performance including memory, attention and concentration decreases by as much as 10 percent. Increased dehydration will cause even greater loss of mental performance.
According to Philippa Norman M.D., even mild dehydration impacts learning and cognitive performance.
“Water is essential for optimal brain health and function. Water is necessary to maintain the tone of membranes for normal neurotransmission. It enhances circulation and aids in removing wastes. Water keeps the brain from overheating, which can cause cognitive decline and even damage. This is one of the main reasons to encourage students to drink water during exercise. Dehydration most commonly occurs because children go long periods of time without drinking water. When they are thirsty they often choose sweetened drinks instead of water. By the time thirst is felt, there may be a loss of body weight up to 2 percent from water loss, and a 10 percent cognitive decline may be present. Dehydration can lead to fatigue, dizziness, poor concentration and reduced cognitive abilities. Even mild levels of dehydration can impact school performance.”
A recent CNN article highlights that most parents assume their kids are getting enough water throughout the day, especially during the school year when many attend brick and mortar schools. According to a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey by the CDC, only fifteen percent of kids are getting enough H20 during the day and many experts consider this to be a problem needing national attention.
So, what are the signs of dehydration you ask? The Mayo Clinic gives a good overview of what parents and kids should look for if they suspect dehydration.
Even mild dehydration can affect your child's performance and make him or her lethargic and irritable. Left untreated, severe dehydration can increase the risk of other heat-related illnesses, including heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke.
Encourage your child to pay attention to early signs and symptoms of dehydration, including:
- Dry or sticky mouth
- Excessive fatigue
The best way to treat dehydration is prevention. Kids should drink the recommended 6-8 glasses spread throughout the day with at least 3-4 of them consumed during traditional school hours. Remember that by the time a child feels thirsty; their mental performance may have deteriorated by 10 percent, so they need to be encouraged to drink often, even if they don’t feel like it!
Our kids look up to us and mimic what they see. If we all commit to upping our own water intake and drinking the recommended daily glasses of water, we can lead by example. We can also learn what the local school policies are towards water breaks and how they encourage our kids to stay hydrated. For learning coaches at home, encouraging your kids to drink water during their scheduled breaks is a great way to help them develop healthy habits.
By doing our part, we are setting our kids up on the right path to having their health and learning needs met and providing a successful healthy learning environment. A win/win situation!
Here's some related links to visit for more information:
- Dehydration and Youth Sports: Curb the Risk
- Feeding the Brain for Academic Success: How Nutrition and Hydration Boost Learning
- For Schoolchildren: Where's the Water?
- Live Fit and Sore: The Connection Between Dehydration and Headaches
- Parent Savvy: Urge Kids to Drink Water During Hot Weather: Expert
This post was originally published on thethinK12 blog at K12.com.blog.