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How (and why!) to hydrate

Smiling Asian woman, drinking water while using laptop

At a glance

  • Water makes up 50% to 70% of our body weight and is responsible for carrying nutrients and oxygen to our cells.
  • Feeling thirsty isn’t the only sign of dehydration. Headache, dizziness and even hunger are also symptoms.
  • Coffee, tea and energy drinks offer certain advantages when it comes to hydration, but water is best.

Spring is the air, and whether you’re hitting the books or hitting the great outdoors, it’s important to hydrate.

After all, water makes up 50% to 70% of our body weight. Good hydration carries nutrients and oxygen to our cells, lubricates joints and helps our kidneys and liver work properly. If we don’t hydrate enough — in other words, become dehydrated — we’re at risk for headache, confusion, sleepiness, lightheadedness and dizziness. None of these are helpful for performing well in school, much less enjoying days outdoors with our family or friends.

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No doubt, life gets busy. But if you’re in the habit of going head-down into your studies without thinking about drinking, you may be depriving your body from performing at its peak.

Hydration helpers


If you’re feeling thirsty, you’re already dehydrated,” says University of Phoenix College of Nursing Associate Dean for Undergraduate and Doctoral Studies Linnea M. Axman, DrPH. “Not everyone knows that.” 

Another lesser-known fact is that if you’re hungry, you might actually be thirsty. So, to go for a full feeling, especially if you’re moving toward weight-loss goals, try to slake your thirst first.

Here, we’ll break down the pros and cons of four go-to options, with tips on how to get more hydration into your daily rotation.


Pros: Water is the best option for staying hydrated. Water is caffeine-, calorie- and sugar-free, and it’s readily available. Need a strategy for making sure you get more? Axman has you covered.

“When I was in the Navy, we would actually set an alarm to drink water,” she says.

Other strategies? Start the morning off with a glass of water or fill a water bottle and take it with you everywhere. If you don’t like plain water, add lemon or lime or infuse a pitcher with pomegranates and oranges or strawberries and mint. (Just make sure you wash the fruit to avoid germs.)

Cons: While it is theoretically possible to drink too much water, it’s unusual. It’s more likely that the average healthy adult will not drink enough water, Axman says. 

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Pros: Coffee is high in antioxidants and high in vitamin B. Recent studies even found that coffee drinkers are less likely to die from stroke, diabetes and kidney disease. And coffee may lower risk for heart disease and liver problems.

“Coffee is a stimulant, so if that’s what you’re using it for, that’s OK,” Axman says.

Cons: There’s a big but. Coffee is a diuretic, so at a certain point it will stop adding to our fluid intake and subtract from it instead. Plus, all that caffeine accumulates in the brain, Axman says, which can start messing with sleep. The coffee you’re swigging to stay awake may actually keep you awake at inopportune times.

Axman suggests this: If you’re unable to sleep through the night, or if you feel nervous and jittery, dial down the coffee intake to see if that helps — especially if you add sugar or sweetener to your coffee. Experts recommend no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day, which is roughly four cups max.


Pros: If you’re looking for an energy boost without all the caffeine of coffee, tea is a good bet. Black tea has roughly half the caffeine of coffee, while green tea hovers around one-third. Many caffeinated and herbal teas contain antioxidants, which help reduce risk of disease, including heart disease and diabetes.

Cons: Too much tea may lead to digestive or GI issues. Additionally, there are many types of tea — and claims about them — so it’s important to know who’s putting the claim out there, Axman advises. It’s also important to understand the different types of herbal tea.

“Some will truly make you sleepy. If you need to study, don’t drink chamomile or passionflower tea,” she says.

Energy drinks

Pros: Some energy drinks have the herbal extract ginseng, which may have a positive effect on brain function, especially mental alertness.

Cons: Some energy drinks may have up to 300 milligrams of caffeine in addition to up to 12 teaspoons of sugar plus a supplement called guarana, which also contains caffeine. That means total caffeine and total sugar for an entire day might be consumed in just one can!

That said, not all energy drinks are created equal. “What I would say is that we can’t make a monster — ha-ha — out of all energy drinks. They have their place occasionally,” Axman says. (Has anyone out there pulled an all-nighter for a big paper?) “But if consumed regularly and in high quantity, energy drinks may affect sleep quality and contribute to heart problems, diabetes and stress or inflammation.”

In the end, Axman advises consumers to read labels of what they’re drinking just as they should for what they’re eating. “Make an educated decision. Sometimes you need a get-me-over and that’s OK,” she says. “As the saying goes, ‘Everything in moderation.’”

And that includes all-nighters.

Portrait of Dr. Patrick C. Horton smiling


A journalist-turned-marketer, Laurie Davies has been writing since her high school advanced composition teacher told her she broke too many rules. She has worked with University of Phoenix since 2017, and currently splits her time between blogging and serving as lead writer on the University’s Academic Annual Report. Previously, she has written marketing content for MADD, Kaiser Permanente, Massage Envy, UPS, and other national brands. She lives in the Phoenix area with her husband and son, who is the best story she’s ever written.


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