H2O has left the chat.

| By Sukriti Wahi | Wellness

11 Subtle Signs You Could Be Dehydrated, According to a Doctor

H2O has left the chat.

While most of us know that it’s important to drink enough water, the reality of keeping up the habit isn’t always so simple.

Between the quest to achieve work-life balance, the struggle to maintain an exercise routine, friendships, and all the other things we put on The List For Later, getting in those two litres a day has a sneaky tendency to drop down in the daily priorities.

That said, it’s one of the most important things we can do for our overall health. Water is necessary for a myriad of the body’s essential functions, including toxin removal, nutrient transportation and joint lubrication, among many others.

And while thirst and darker urine are among the more common signs that you’re not consuming enough water, there are several surprising indicators that you might be a bit low on the H2O. So, we consulted General Practitioner Dr. Raesha Jaffer to uncover some of the more subtle signals of dehydration in the body.

Curious? Keep reading to discover 11 surprising signs that you could be dehydrated (and three hacks to help you prevent it).

1. Constant Fatigue

Find yourself feeling constantly exhausted? Continually experiencing those mid-afternoon slumps? If you’ve ruled out any vitamin deficiencies or health reasons, a lack of H2O could well be behind it.

“Around 50-70% of our body weight is water. Staying hydrated is important to maintain the blood volume in the body, and it’s a vehicle for carrying nutrients to your body’s cells,” Dr. Jaffer tells Bed Threads Journal.

“When you are dehydrated, there is a decrease in your blood fluid volume, and your heart has to work much harder to keep delivering blood with all the nutrients and oxygen to all the other vital organs. Hence, given the body is using more energy to perform its everyday function, anything more on top of this can cause you to feel fatigued.”

2. Headache

Much like the body, approximately 75% of your brain is made up of water. It is hypothesised that when you are dehydrated, fluid shifts out of the brain, triggering pain receptors in the lining of your brain, Dr. Jaffer explains.

“The headache varies from person to person, for some it can be the whole head, whereas for others it might be just the front or back of the head, and it’s often made worse with head movements,” she says.

3. Hunger

Although it is not always the case, mild dehydration can be often confused for feelings of hunger.

“There are a few theories about it, one theory is due to the interference in the metabolic system of our body, especially when it comes to the release of stored glucose. Hence, the body is tricked into thinking you need more food,” says Dr. Jaffer.

If you find yourself feeling hungry and know you’re not on top of your fluid intake, try having a glass of water and waiting 15 minutes to see if your hunger settles down.

4. Dry eyes or blurred vision

When you’re dehydrated, your tear glands produce less tear fluid. This fluid is important to keep the eyes well lubricated, as it forms a protective barrier for the eye and also helps remove debris that your eye encounters, Dr. Jaffer explains.

“With less tear fluid, there is an increased risk of infection as the eye is not able to protect itself as well and as it gets dry. It can also lead to eye strain which can impact the vision and cause headaches,” she adds.

5. Bad breath

Although it may seem unusual, halitosis (aka bad breath) is a subtle sign of dehydration.

“We all have bacteria that live in our mouths,” says Dr. Jaffer.

“Some of these bacteria break down protein at a high rate, producing an odorous sulphur compound. Saliva normally helps regulate the bacteria and help combat the debris.

“With dehydration, there is decreased production of saliva, hence leaving the mouth more susceptible to the bacteria and their by-products.”

6. Decreased exercise capacity

If you’re finding it hard to get through your go-to workouts despite eating enough calories, you might find that dehydration is the real culprit behind your struggle.

“When you’re dehydrated, your body is working with less fluid volume. It is trying to conserve all nutrients and directs blood to all your vital organs, which are working harder to perform all their normal functions,” Dr. Jaffer explains.

“As a result, you will find it hard for your body to keep up with the added burden of exercise on top of this.”

7. Constipation

Having trouble getting things moving down there? Like the rest of your body, your digestive system needs water to keep things running, ahem, smoothly — especially if you’re eating a lot of gut-loving fibre.

“As your food makes its way down the intestine, it needs to remain moist. When the body is dehydrated, the stools become hard and dry and very difficult to pass,” Dr. Jaffer notes.

9. Dull, dry or shrivelled skin

While dryness is one of the first signs of dehydration to show on your skin, an overall dull complexion, and lack of elasticity is likely indicative of low water consumption.

“If you’re dehydrated, your body saves the amount of water it has for its vital organs, hence, the skin sometimes gets compromised here. Without adequate hydration, it starts to get rough and dry and appears dull,” says Dr. Jaffer.

10. Mental Exhaustion

Much like an indoor plant trying to live its best life, your brain needs water to thrive and perform at the top of its game. When the levels of H2O are low, you’ll probably experience reduced cognitive function and feelings of general mental exhaustion.

“This is due to the disruption of homeostasis in our body. If you think about it, every cell of our body is affected internally. Consequently, our body is performing at a suboptimal level,” Dr. Jaffer tells Bed Threads Journal.

“There are several studies that link dehydration to reduced short-term memory and reduced concentration levels.”

11. Muscle Cramps

You guessed it: your muscles need water, and if you’re not drinking enough, it’s not uncommon for muscle cramps to occur.

“Muscle cramps occur as a result of both decreased blood flow to the muscles and also electrolyte imbalances that occur,” Dr. Jaffer says.

“The muscles can spasm and sometimes contract involuntarily, leading to cramps.”

How to make sure you’re drinking enough water

It can be difficult to ensure you’re drinking enough water, but there are some ‘hacks’ you can employ to get into the habit:

  • One way to try and ensure you’re consuming enough is to start the day by drinking a couple of glasses of water first thing in the morning to ‘get ahead’ on your intake. For some, this act alone helps as a reminder to maintain the habit throughout the day.
  • Try to make a point of getting up and having a glass of water every couple of hours, setting an alarm on your phone if you need the added push. Need an incentivised reminder? Gamify it with an app like Plant Nanny, which helps you unlock and collect different plants to grow a ‘virtual garden’ that only flourishes if you keep your water intake.
  • Obvious as it may seem, keep a water bottle on you at all times. “Sounds simple, but we are constantly on the go and forget to keep hydrated. Our body is great at compensating so often we don’t realise we are dehydrated,” Dr. Jaffer says.


This article is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for individualised health advice. If you are concerned about your health, wellbeing or water consumption, please speak to your GP, who will advise on the correct treatment plan.

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