Heading back to school is stressful whether you’re just starting middle school or dropping your kid off for their first day of college. Between shopping for school supplies, rushing to finish up summer assignments and arguing about back to school haircuts, clothes and schedules, there’s barely time to breathe, much less time to focus on staying hydrated.
Despite these challenges, drinking enough is even more important when life gets busy. Hydration will keep you more relaxed, more awake, and more functional overall; all of which are pretty essential for a smooth transition into the school year. Let’s face it- there are enough stressors that you do NOT have control over- take care of those that you CAN!
Hydration has been proven to control stress by keeping your cortisol levels down. Cortisol is a stress hormone that comes out when your fight or flight response is set off. It is crucial in life or death situations but too much exposure to it will give you anxiety and high blood sugar. (So if you need to fight off another person for the last red binder, maybe take a break from hydrating for a few minutes. Otherwise, carry on.) In fact, hydration is linked to more balanced emotions overall. A consistent water habit can help avoid “mood disturbances”, which I’m pretty sure is code for “finals week mental breakdowns”. And I think we can all agree the less of those the better.
Dehydration can also make you physically tense; water is essential for muscle relaxation. All the yoga in the world can’t help you if your muscles are physically incapable of releasing their tension. Remember, all the critical chemical reactions that keep your body working happen in water, so keep drinking. That does not mean you shouldn’t keep using stress as an excuse to get a massage (shhh it can be our little secret), just be sure to fill your bottle with the fun cucumber water they always seem to have at spas while you’re there.
Water also aids in improving memory and concentration, so if you’re looking at pulling an all-nighter to study, make sure your bottle is full (of water, not red bull). The brain is the first organ to start exhibiting the effects of dehydration, and even mild dehydration has been proven to hurt retention and focus. Remember to supplement any energy drinks you take in with extra water, as caffeine has diuretic effects that will be counterproductive to last-minute cram sessions- basically it will cause you to expel some of the liquid you’ve been taking in (and that would stink, because you’ve been working so hard at hydrating!). It’s a relatively mild effect, but when you’re looking at such small differences (see the paragraph below about exam scores) every ounce matters. TLDR: drinking some extra water won’t teach you differential calculus, but it will help you pay attention while you study and help you retain what you learn.
That in mind, staying up all night to study usually isn’t the best plan before a big test. A full eight hours of sleep will leave you better prepared for the next day nine times out of ten. Hydration helps your body produce melatonin. This chemical regulates your sleep cycle as well as helping you stay and fall asleep. You will get longer, more satisfying nights of rest if you hydrate. For an assortment of reasons, including what you do during the day, and the sheer amount of hours without drinking, it’s easier to become dehydrated while you sleep. Drinking an extra glass of water later in the day isn’t a bad idea either, or leaving a water bottle on your nightstand.
But even if you get enough sleep, don’t think that means you can skip the water. For the day of a test, just bringing a water bottle (especially one that flashes when you need to drink 😉) with you is shown to improve exam scores. Hydration can improve executive functions- which is basically a fancy way of saying thinking and cognitive abilities. In fact, very slight differences in hydration were correlated with a full letter grade difference on the test in the study, with the gap in scores getting larger the more dehydrated the participants got. You can think of your water as a magic GPA booster, or, just as water, whatever works for you.
No matter your school year plan, hydration will be your best friend. So, go grab a glass of water, and get started on your back to school shopping list.
By Kate Marin | @ikate186