Squishy Brain: How Dehydration Torpedos ADHD

by | May 12, 2022 | ADHD Symptom Control | 0 comments

dehydration and ADHD

You’ve heard over and over again how important water is for your body and survival. As a general rule of thumb, you can survive for about three days without water. Then your organs begin to break down and you could die.

Morbid, right?

So it goes without saying that water is absolutely on the list of must haves for your body.

But did you know that hydration helps ADHD? Drinking enough water is essential for proper brain functioning.

That’s right, dehydration makes ADHD worse – it makes your brain work harder and negatively affects your mood, attention, focus, and memory. 

Yup, your important ADHD brain switch will be hard to even find, never mind turn on, if you are dehydrated. 

I don’t know about you, but my brain can’t afford to lose any cells or exhaust itself! We have to keep our ADHD brains hydrated!

How Dehydration Affects ADHD Symptoms

Before we talk about ADHD brains, let’s talk about brains in general. 

A study was conducted years ago at Kings College in London where they tested the effects of dehydration on brain function.

They made some healthy, non-ADHD adolescents exercise and didn’t give some of them water. They then gave the kids MRIs and had them take a problem solving test.

The Results? The dehydrated kids had to think harder to solve the problems than the non-dehydrated kids.

Remember, these are kids who don’t have ADHD. They suffered ‘Brain Fog’ because of dehydration.

Here’s what the study’s authors concluded in official terms: “Given the limited availability of brain metabolic resources, these findings suggest that prolonged states of reduced water intake may adversely impact executive functions such as planning and visuo-spatial processing.” 

(References: 1. Kempton KJ, et al. Dehydration affects brain structure and function in healthy adolescents. Human Brain Mapping 24 March 2010)

So my interpretive twist on this study of dehydration and ADHD? You have to drink enough water. 

Because if dehydration makes it harder for a non-ADHD brain to do what it needs to do, the impact on the ADHD brain will likely be even worse.

Your ADHD Brain Needs a Water Reminder

Now you know that dehydration may increase ADHD symptoms. The tricky part is translating the knowing into doing.

Thinking we’ll remember to drink water doesn’t work. Just like we often don’t notice when we’re hungry, we don’t notice when we’re thirsty. The ADHD brain needs reminders.

One way is to set up an alert on your phone. Though I often recommend reminder systems, having a message pop up to drink some water every 20-30mins will become annoying and before long, you’ll delete the thing entirely.

In my experience, I’ve found ADHD adults find it easier to remember certain tasks if they think in terms of hooks, instead of reminders.

By hooks, I mean attaching – hooking – the behavior or habit you want to another action. A hook is essentially a mini-routine that leads you from one activity to another.

Easy Tips for Drinking More Water

A hook for drinking water looks like this:

  • Refill your coffee cup – pour a cup of coffee, drink a glass of water
  • Get up in the morning – drink a glass of water
  • Go to the bathroom – drink a glass of water
  • Eat a snack – drink a glass of water
  • Eat a meal – drink a glass of water
  • Walk by a drinking fountain – drink some water
  • See a light switch on the wall – drink some water 😉

See the pattern?

Of course you need to have a glass near a sink or a water bottle on hand. Remember, it has to be easy, or you won’t do it if you have ADHD.

You’ll have more success if you keep it simple.

ADHD adults can remember to drink water by hooking it to some other activity you are sure to do throughout the day. 

Bottom line? Give your brain all the help you can.  Eat a healthy diet full of foods that help your ADHD brain. Drink more water and stay hydrated so you don’t increase your ADHD symptoms.

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