6 Ways Dehydration Affects Brain Health in Kids

Studies show that many school-aged children are chronically dehydrated due to insufficient fluid intake throughout the school day. This article will help you understand how dehydration affects brain health and performance, and also give you some ideas to help keep your kids hydrated.

Our brains are estimated to be made up of approximately 73% water, which plays many roles including removing waste from brain cells, bringing nutrients in, and improving blood flow and thus oxygenation of brain cells. Chronic dehydration has been shown to cause shrinkage of brain tissue. Even a modest decrease in hydration (2%) can result in measurable differences in cognitive performance and mood.

So how does dehydration affect kids’ brain health?

Insufficient water intake may contribute to the following brain-related symptoms:

  1. Short term and long term memory loss
  2. Headaches
  3. Focus issues / inattentiveness
  4. Brain fog & fatigue 
  5. Slower information processing
  6. Mood changes / irritability

Some factors that might lead to dehydration during the school day include lines at water fountains, bad taste or smell of water from fountains, and not having enough time to take water breaks or restroom breaks. In addition to the symptoms listed above, other signs of dehydration include dark yellow urine and infrequent urination. A child who is well-hydrated will have pale-colored urine and will need to urinate at least every 2-3 hours. 

Easy tips for improving your child’s hydration status:

  • Use ‘anchors’ throughout the day as reminders to drink water. Examples include:
    • Drink 1 cup of water first thing in the morning.
    • Sip from a water bottle while driving to and from school or activities.
    • Drink 1 cup of water when returning home.
  • Always leave the house with a full water bottle for each family member.
  • Encourage your child to drink the contents of their water bottle before the school day is over.
  • Water reminder timers or phone/tablet apps can remind them to drink throughout the day
  • ‘Smart’ water bottles can help motivate and track water consumption. 

The following foods & drinks ‘count’ towards daily hydration:

  • Plain Water (should be the main source of fluid intake)
  • Broth based soups
  • Unsweetened tea / herbal tea
  • Milk or unsweetened milk alternatives (almond milk, coconut milk)
  • Unsweetened sparkling water (limit in cases of reflux)
  • Fresh fruit
  • Homemade smoothies made without added sugar
Sweetened and caffeinated beverages such as soda, coffee, and store-bought, concentrated juice are not hydrating and do not count towards the daily goal.

How much water does my child need each day?

Water requirements depend on many factors including age, size, and activity level. The following chart gives a general idea of how much fluid intake is required each day by age (based on the US National Academy of Medicine recommended intake values):
  Recommended Daily Water Intake
Age cups ounces
1-3 years 4 32
4-8 years 5 40
9-13 years 7-8 56-64
14-18 years 8-11 64-88
women, 19+ years 9 72
men, 19+ years 13 104
Or to get a more precise number based on your child’s individual needs, use the calculator below by plugging in your child’s information. Make sure you start by choosing unit (Imperial vs Metric). Please note that 2 different answers will be output by the calculator. The first value is the total water including water found in food (which generally accounts for about 20% of our daily water intake). The second (slightly lower) value is the amount of actual water or hydrating beverages (listed above) that should be consumed each day. 
Water Intake Calculator

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