The Winter Hydration Puzzle“But I don’t feel thirsty.”
In the chill of winter, we often don’t receive the same thirst signals that we do on a hot and sweaty summer day. In the winter, water loss from our bodies tends to be more passive and less noticeable to us—but it is no less pronounced. In the absence of cues to drink water, we can end up suboptimally hydrated, with a host of uncomfortable symptoms, some of which we assume have more complex
etiologies than a simple fluids shortage. Several seasonal elements contribute to this tendency toward winter dehydration:
- Dry winter air
- Forced indoor heat
- Mouth-breathing (common with sinus congestion & stress)
- Air travel
- Increased caffeine & alcohol intake through the holidays
- Increased sugar & salt intake
Here are 9 signs you may be running on empty:
Chapped Lips and Dull, Dry Skin
The skin—your largest organ—is like a roadmap to your hydration levels. While we’re big fans of balms, oils, serums and lotions here at Farmacopia, we recognize that skin hydration is largely an inside job. Nutrition matters here, too: when we are properly nourished with the necessary array of amino acids, vitamins, minerals and fatty acids, our skin architecture can do its water-holding job better, even in winter.
Check the color of your urine. If it's honey-colored or darker, your body is waving a dehydration flag. Optimal hydration turns your urine into a pale, straw color. In the absence of any serious health conditions, darker urine can be a telltale sign that your body is holding onto precious water for dear life.
Fatigue & Brain Fog
Feeling sluggish and foggy? Having trouble making it through your day without caffeine? Many of us associate fatigue with the winter doldrums. Running dehydrated also induces these same feelings. Cold weather can suppress our thirst, leading us to forget about hydration—so, we often attribute the feeling
of being “off” both cognitively and energy-wise to other factors. But if water and electrolytes are in short supply, waste products back up, and your brain and body simply cannot do their cellular work very well.
Our digestive tracts require a huge amount of water to function properly, and this need re-ups on a daily basis. If you are constipated (skipping days or having incomplete elimination), or your stool is dry, hard or consists of “rabbit-like pellets,” it’s a sign to increase your water intake, and to include moistening, bulking fibers like flax, chia and marshmallow on a regular basis.
Dry mouth and reduced saliva can lead to less-than-fresh breath as microorganisms that cause bad breath to proliferate. Remember, water is required to produce every single one of our bodily secretions, including saliva!
Headaches & Sinus Pain
Many people recognize headaches as their bodies’ go-to dehydration symptom, but sinus pain and pressure can also be a sign of insufficient water intake. Our mucous membranes need tons of fluids to remain moist and “bouncy,” and when they are dried out, sinus pain, pressure and susceptibility to allergies and viruses all increase.
Our muscles need a delicate fluid and electrolyte balance for proper muscle fiber communication, and low fluid intake increases cramping both during exercise and rest.
Dark Circles and Dry Eyes
Hydration protects our eyes, aqueous, miraculous structures that they are, and keeps them functioning properly. Dryness, itching, “foreign body sensations” (like grit or sand in the eye) and blurriness can all be related to lack of sufficient hydration. Dark circles and a sunken appearance of the eyes can signal more advanced dehydration.
Okay, you get the idea. Your hydration levels affect the functioning of your WHOLE body, not to mention the quality of your lived experience. Given that it can be harder to hydrate in winter, and quite easy to get dehydrated, what can we do about it?
7 Winter Hydration Hacks
Humidifier in the Bedroom
To counter the dryness of forced heat or wood-burning stoves, try sleeping with a humidifier, and keep one in your office space if you work at home. Newer brands like Canopy and Airdog make humidifiers to address the threat of mold that comes with more traditional humidifier models. If you have chronic sinus issues, or dry eyes and skin, humidifying the air in your home can be a game changer!
Breathe through your nose
Mouth breathing causes us to passively lose water and can increase in winter due to sinus congestion from viruses and indoor winter allergies. It can also become habitual when the air is colder, or when we are feeling stressed. Our noses have special structures to filter, warm and humidify the air—so as much
as you are able, try to nose breathe (there are a host of other health benefits associated with a switch away from mouth breathing—read James Nestor’s astonishing book “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art” to learn more.
The Cozy Way to Hydrate
Embrace the warmth of herbal teas, broth (veggie or bone) and hot water with lemon. Vegetable broth is one of my favorite natural electrolyte drinks. Make a batch and drink a quart a day for a week to see how good you can feel! Meanwhile, it makes sense to lay off excess caffeine and alcohol, both of which
act as diuretics and ultimately dry us out. When you are drinking, have a minimum of 1 glass of water per alcoholic beverage—you’ll sleep better and wake up in better shape.
Food as Hydration
For people who really have trouble drinking water, it makes sense to optimize hydration through food. Many raw fruits and veggies have high water contents—but common ones like cucumbers, watermelon
and lettuce are “cold” energetically speaking and may disturb sensitive digestive tracts in winter. Oranges, baked pears and apples, mushrooms, chia pudding, warm smoothies, soups, stews are all great, seasonally appropriate ways to get fluids from our foods.
Schedule Your Sips/Stack Habits
Busy days can slip away in a flurry of activities—without so much as a sip of water passing our lips. Set reminders or create a hydration schedule to ensure you're staying hydrated consistently throughout the day. Some of my clients swear by hydration tracking apps, like WaterLlama or Water Minder. You can set up your smart watch to track water, too. Stacking habits, such as drinking a glass of water whenever you reach for lip balm, or while you’re preparing coffee or tea in the morning, can be helpful too.
Invest in a Stylish Water Bottle
The more you like your bottle, the more likely you are to carry it everywhere. “Purist” brand water bottles are sleek and glass-lined, and S’well makes a line of attractive bottles for every taste.
Electrolytes are electrically charged minerals or ions that play a crucial role in various physiological functions within the human body. The most common electrolytes include sodium, potassium, chloride,
calcium, magnesium, phosphate, and bicarbonate. These minerals are essential for maintaining fluid balance, transmitting electrical impulses in nerves and muscles, and supporting various cellular and metabolic. They also help us get more from the water we drink. Consider adding electrolytes to your water if:
- You find yourself peeing all the time when you drink water.
- You’re physically active.
- You talk for your job (eg, teaching, speaking).
- You find yourself chronically short on water intake.
- You’re traveling, especially by plane.
- You’re socializing and having more caffeine, sugar and/or alcohol than usual.
We hope this helps you interpret your body’s subtle—and not so subtle—signs that it needs one of its most basic forms of nourishment: water. Come see us for delicious herbal teas and energy-enhancing electrolytes. Cheers to a hydrated and healthy winter!