• Ryan C. Warner, Ph.D., CRC

Drinking Water May Improve Your Decision Making

Updated: Jan 18


So what can we do to make better decisions in life? For answers, one place we can look is to the world around us. The most vast and essential compound on this planet is water. It is no secret that all living organisms require water for survival. The human body is made up of around 70 percent water, and drinking enough safe water daily helps boost our physical and mental health. Did you know it can also contribute to improved decision making?


For instance, in a recent study adult participants took tests on their cognitive performance after having fasted from the night before. Those who drank 500ml of water before testing later demonstrated improved performance on tasks measuring cognitive reflection in judgment and decision making. Additionally, in subjects between the ages of 18 and 30, experts found that drinking water improved memory and focus.


Improper Hydration


There are many adverse impacts improper hydration may have. For instance, over-hydration can cause the electrolyte levels in the body to become unbalanced and cause sodium levels to drop dramatically. Without sodium, your brain cannot initiate the electrical impulses your nerve cells require for proper communication. Without proper communication, decision making and judgement will be impaired.


Although over-hydration can be harmful, nearly 80 percent of individuals report that they don't drink enough water. One impact mild dehydration may have is the possible suppression of blood flow to the brain. Having proper blood flow to your brain is important for healthy cognitive function. Circulating blood supplies your brain with the oxygen and essential nutrients it needs to function properly. Furthermore, dehydration has been shown to increase the release of the stress hormone cortisol. Elevated cortisol levels have been associated with impaired cognitive function and decision-making difficulties. For instance, a 2018 study randomly assigned 56 participants to a social stressor. Participants in the stress condition responded with higher heart rates, reported more negative moods, and on the decision-making task made less advantageous choices. Ultimately, adequate hydration may assist with peak cognitive performance.


Sipping Towards a Better You


There may be many barriers to consuming more H2O, even if you understand the benefits. However, there are a few actions you can take to improve the likelihood that you will obtain proper water intake to enhance your decision making.


Environmental Cues. Altering your environment can enhance the likelihood that you will be successful with your goals of consuming more water. For example, ensuring that you keep a water bottle with you throughout the day may “cue” your brain to take a sip. Also, setting reminders to drink more using a phone app or alarm may assist with tracking how much you consume and also help you establish a daily routine.


Daily Routines. Creating a daily routine can make your goal of consuming proper water intake sustainable over time. To do this, it may be helpful to pair this goal with a routine that is already in place. For example, if you walk your dog every morning, taking a water bottle with you may improve the likelihood that your increased H2O consumption will continue for the long term. Unconventional Drinking Habits. If you struggle with finding pleasure or excitement when drinking, then maybe it’s time to switch it up! Research suggests that altering how you drink helps people obtain a fresh perspective, ultimately making the behavior more enjoyable. For instance, researchers asked 300 people to come up with their own unconventional ways to consume water. Their answers ranged from drinking it out of a martini glass, to drinking it from a spoon. Results showed that the research participants enjoyed drinking water more than those who drank it the “normal” way. Bottom Line

Ensuring that we are properly hydrated may assist with improved cognitive functioning and decision making. It is important to note that the proper water intake may vary for each individual. Your age, physical activity, health status, and other factors may impact how much you should consume. It is essential to continually assess your hydration status to ensure you are obtaining proper fluid levels. Altogether, if we set ourselves up for success by altering our environment, establishing a routine, and/or drinking in unconventional ways, then we can improve the likelihood that our hydration goals can be accomplished, possibly leading to better life decisions.

The information provided should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, and those seeking personal medical advice should consult with a licensed physician. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified health provider regarding a medical condition.

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References

Benton, D., Jenkins, K. T., Watkins, H. T., & Young, H. A. (2016). Minor degree of hypohydration adversely influences cognition: A mediator analysis. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 104(3), 603–612. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.116.132605.

Lee, L. C., & Noronha, M. (2016). When plenty is too much: water intoxication in a patient with a simple urinary tract infection. Case Reports, 2016, bcr2016216882.

O’Brien, E., & Smith, R. W. (2019). Unconventional consumption methods and enjoying things consumed: Recapturing the “first-time” experience. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 45(1), 67-80.

Patsalos, O. C., & Thoma, V. (2020). Water supplementation after dehydration improves judgment and decision-making performance. Psychological research, 84(5), 1223-1234.

Riebl, S. K., & Davy, B. M. (2013). The hydration equation: Update on water balance and cognitive performance. ACSM's health & fitness journal, 17(6), 21.

Wardhan, R., & Mudgal, P. (2017). Nerve Transmission. In Textbook of Membrane Biology (pp. 205-222). Springer, Singapore.

Wemm, S. E., & Wulfert, E. (2017). Effects of Acute Stress on Decision Making. Applied psychophysiology and biofeedback, 42(1), 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10484-016-9347-8



Originally published on Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/leadership-diversity-and-wellness/202012/drinking-water-may-improve-your-decision-making


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