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Even Mild Dehydration Can Affect Your Mental Game, New Study Finds

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I'm terrible at keeping myself hydrated. Instead of water, I have an IV tap of coffee, which I know — I know — is terrible for me. I have gone through entire workdays where I won't realize that I haven't had a drink of water until I clock out. And the funny thing is, I love water. I love drinking water, swimming in water, living by water — yet I fail hardcore at keeping hydrated, which probably explains why I am always fuzzy. Apparently even mild dehydration can affect your mental game, found new research. *Gulps 10 glasses over water at once.*

A new study published this month in the journal Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise found that even being slightly dehydrated can affect your mental performance, according to NPR. In particular, researchers analyzed 33 studies and discovered that mild dehydration, which can happen quickly in the summer heat, can affect your mood, cloud your thinking, and tank your energy, NPR reported.

The Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise study defined mild dehydration as exceeding a 2 percent loss of your body's normal water volume. That's the same as sweating out about a liter of water, according to NPR, and could happen between four and eight hours.

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Lead researcher Mindy Millard-Stafford, director of the Exercise Physiology Laboratory at Georgia Institute of Technology, told NPR:

We find that when people are mildly dehydrated they really don't do as well on tasks that require complex processing or on tasks that require a lot of their attention.

In other words, not only does being tired and stress make it harder for you to get your toddler ready for the day, but so does forgetting to drink that glass of water sitting on your kitchen counter (which is totally not what happened to me earlier).

This isn't the first study to link mild dehydration to impaired mental performance, though. Two studies out of the University of Connecticut published in 2011 and 2012 respectively, came to the same conclusion: That being mildly dehydrated, whether you sat at rest or walked for 40 minutes on the treadmill — can affect your mood, energy, and ability to think clearly. For the purposes of those studies, the University of Connecticut researchers defined mild dehydration as a 1.5 percent loss.

Harris Lieberman, one of the studies’ co-authors and scientist with the U.S. Army, told Shape:

The brain is extremely sensitive to even small changes in the amounts of ions like sodium and potassium found in your body’s fluids.
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Infants and young children though are more susceptible to dehydration, so it's important to watch your kid's water intake just as much as you would your own. Kids have a higher metabolic rate, which means they use up water and electrolytes faster than adults, according to Liquid I.V. They also have a harder time communicating — or even understanding — their needs, so if they're thirsty and crave water, you may not know it. And to that end, they may drink juice or some other type of sugary beverage because they don't know the importance of water — they just know that they're thirsty, Liquid I.V. pointed out.

But there are simple ways you can make sure you and your family stay hydrated, especially in the summer heat. The most important tip would be to always carry a bottle or two of water with you wherever you go, this way you always have it on hand when you can't find a water fountain. But don't only take a sip when you're feeling thirsty — if you are feeling fuzzy or tired, or if you notice your kid feeling the same, take a swig from your water bottle. As research shows, muddled thinking and confusion are signs of dehydration.