Drinking enough water every day is crucial to our wellbeing. However, it can be particularly difficult to stay on top of hydration when at work or when the cold weather prevents us from feeling thirsty.
In this article, we aim to outline what the feeling of thirst entails, why hydration is important for our physical and mental wellbeing at work, what barriers prevent us from getting enough water and our top tips for overcoming dehydration.
What is thirst?
The feeling of thirst is one that we know all too well: your throat and mouth feeling too dry for comfort, a dull ache that you can’t ignore and an all-encompassing need to search for and drink water. The need to stay hydrated is constant and to feel thirsty is a strong bodily sensation that we experience when we aren’t adequately hydrated.
Thirst is a vital instinct as, without it, we wouldn’t have a strong cue to drink water. This would be catastrophic for our health as the body depends on water and being unknowingly constantly dehydrated can therefore lead to negative impacts on the body and mind - from energy loss to brain fog and even serious complications such as urinary and kidney problems.
What happens to the body when you are thirsty?
It is well-known that up to 60% of an adult body is water, with important organs such as the brain and the heart composed of 73% water. This means that the brain needs to constantly monitor the water content coming in and out of the body and create the urge to drink when we most need it.
Our bodies are extremely sensitive to changes in hydration. As little as a 1% decrease in hydration triggers the need to drink. One reason for this is that water is critical for cellular functions that are necessary for keeping us alive. These include:
● Absorption - transporting dissolved substances such as medicines into our cells
● Digestion - breaking down the food we eat within the body
● Excretion - eliminating waste and toxic substances from the body
● Homeostasis - regulating essential processes within the body.
There is also a connection between dehydration and circulation. Inadequate water intake causes a decrease in blood volume - the amount of blood being circulated throughout the body. This means that you risk your blood not properly reaching all tissues, meaning your organs won’t be able to function properly. This places increased strain on the body due to the need to maintain the minimum blood pressure required for proper circulation.
These reasons are why the human body has evolved to develop extensive biological processes that maintain adequate hydration. Specialised neurons - messenger cells within the body that distribute information between the brain and nervous system - monitor the blood volume within the body. When there is a disruption in fluid balance, they trigger a set of biological responses - including the characteristic feeling of dryness and discomfort - that work to restore it by motivating you to drink water.
How is hydration a part of wellbeing?
Wellbeing is an all-encompassing term for positive feelings about life and overall good physical and mental health. Because water is a vital cog in the machine - that is, our bodily processes - it plays a major role in maintaining good health and wellbeing.
Water carries nutrients and oxygen to all cells, lubricates our joints and helps to regulate body temperature. One study shows that adults who drink more water have a lower risk of anxiety and depression than those who drink less water.
Research suggests that staying hydrated helps to keep you alert, while dehydration impairs your cognitive performance, bringing on negative symptoms described as ‘brain fog’.
Because optimum hydration is so important for our mental and physical health, this means that it’s a key part of health and wellbeing.
What is wellbeing at work?
Creating a healthy working environment is at the heart of workplace wellbeing. Ensuring that people feel their best while at work is a key part of an organisation’s success.
Investing time and resources into workplace hydration wellbeing means that employees will be more engaged and resilient, increasing productivity and motivation. This helps people reach their maximum potential - benefitting both themselves and their workplace.
The COVID-19 pandemic has helped to highlight many concerns about employee wellbeing and health. Employers play a key role in protecting their staff from infection while at work by implementing measures to reduce risk. These might range from introducing regular staff testing to increased hygiene measures and even implementing touch-free technology that will contribute towards reducing touch points, such as the Zip HydroTap Wave.
Why is staying hydrated at work important?
Most full-time employees work a 37-hour week, so it’s safe to say that we spend a big part of our waking hours at work.
Dehydration can lead to disruptions in mood and concentration, meaning you’re more likely to make mistakes and not be able to focus on your work. You may also notice fatigue, negative mood, memory loss and even the inability to process information.
It’s important to reduce these risks by making the effort to drink plenty of water while at work. The NHS recommends that most healthy people should drink between six to eight glasses, or 1.9 litres, of water a day.
Although helpful information and a good indication of what we should be drinking every day, daily water intake may differ depending on your gender, age, weight, activity level and the climate that you live in. It's best to do your research and use a hydration calculator to determine your own needs and set a reasonable goal.
What are the barriers to hydration at work?
Employers are legally required to provide drinking water at work, under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. They state that not only should employers provide an adequate drinking water supply, but that it should always be readily available at clearly signposted locations.
Despite this, there are still existing barriers that prevent people from actively meeting their daily drinking water requirements. 62% of people in the UK don’t drink enough water to stay hydrated and meet their daily water intake, citing reasons such as it being boring, having to pay for bottled water or not trusting the water at work.
How is seasonality a barrier to hydration?
Seasonality poses a further challenge to hydration, particularly during the colder winter months. “People just don’t feel thirsty when the weather is cold.” says an academic at the University of New Hampshire.
We lose water when we breathe, due to the moisture in our breath. Our bodies are also working a lot harder under the extra layers of clothing to keep us warm. This combined with perspiration means that we lose water and become dehydrated quickly and without notice.
Fluid-regulating hormones catalyse the feeling of thirst we get when we are dehydrated. However, cold temperatures cause a reduction in thirst sensation. This means that despite the colder weather, we are at an increased risk of dehydration during winter.
So what can you do?
Even caffeinated drinks, herbal teas and juices contribute towards your daily water intake. It can be easy to encourage drinking more water in the workplace - find out our top tips for improving hydration at work here.