I would like to obey my thirst, but...
August 24, 2010 4:12 AM   Subscribe

I would like to obey my thirst, but... I recently realised I don't seem to get thirsty when I should. I had to take a tablet and grabbed a glass of water to do so. As soon as I began drinking I felt desperately thirsty and drank a second glass. But I swear if you'd asked me a minute before, I'd have said I wasn't thirsty. In this thread, people are saying it's healthy to drink before you start feel thirst. But I don't seem to feel it much at all.

Details: I'm fortyish, a bit overweight and unfit, although I'm trying to improve on that, exercise and eat better etc.

I work in an air-conditioned office 9-5, I drink two or three latt├ęs in the morning, I drink wine most evenings. I've noticed I tend to sweat more than other people in the same conditions.

I mean, it's obvious, I should just have a bottle of water and remind myself to drink from it every now and then, but I'm interested in why my body isn't telling me to do so.
posted by AmbroseChapel to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What's your question? Some people just have slightly faulty thirst mechanisms. I don't often feel thirsty but do feel the effects of dehydration. When I first moved to the tropics I got headaches a lot until someone pointed out I needed to be drinking a lot more water.
posted by Silentgoldfish at 4:24 AM on August 24, 2010

It's pretty common. I have the same problem. Thirst is a good indicator of dehydration, but obviously you need to drink BEFORE you become dehydrated.

Here's a more detailed article (looks like it's a copy/reprint from Soaring Magazine, a magazine about flying/pilots). It goes deeper into the mechanism of thirst and hydration if you're curious.
posted by Knicke at 4:28 AM on August 24, 2010

Also, as we age, our 'thirst mechanism' tends to be less and less present, generally. It doesn't mean that our bodies aren't in need of hydration, but only that we have learned to tune out the signs of thirst that we are getting. It sounds, though, that when you start to drink (when you start to take notice of your thirst) you notice that you're incredibly thirsty, so there's your thirst mechanism working like a charm, once you pay attention to it a little bit.
posted by andreapandrea at 4:51 AM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

If you're worried about this, ask your doctor, and you can even ask him/her to refer you to an endocrinologist.
posted by nosugrefneb at 4:58 AM on August 24, 2010

I've heard that people who feel slightly hungry (not starving) may actually just be thirsty. So if your hunger signals seem to be working OK, try a drink of water the next time you feel like eating, and go ahead and eat only if you still feel hungry after the drink.
posted by maudlin at 5:17 AM on August 24, 2010

Wooo, timely. I've just spent 70 hours moving a stone out of my kidney. This has been prolonged no fun, as in writhing on the floor and making animal noises no fun. And that's after the ER visit and meds. Henceforth I am drinking my two liters of water per day, using alarms or whatever it takes to remind me.
posted by gregoreo at 5:28 AM on August 24, 2010

My sense of thirst is wonky, too - sometimes I don't feel thirsty until I am experiencing a half dozen signs of dehydration (and often not until I've actually noticed that, eg, my fingertips are wrinkly.). No idea why, though I've heard it's one of those things you can lose if you ignore it too much.

I schedule my water consumption, and try to drink as much water as any other thing - try having 12 or 16 oz. of water with each latte. This seems to make me more likely to be thirsty.
posted by SMPA at 5:58 AM on August 24, 2010

Do you feel hungry often? I find I misinterpret thirst for hunger a lot of the time, and reach for food when I should be reaching for water. Like you, I loves me my coffee and wine, but both of those are pretty dehydrating. I have to consciously stop and ask myself whether it's hunger I'm feeling, or whether it might be thirst. Drink some water every time you feel like snacking for the next week, and see what happens.

Good luck!
posted by LN at 6:04 AM on August 24, 2010

Something I heard or read a loooong time ago said that dehydrated skin doesn't bounce back as fast (I'll explain in a sec). I don't know if this is always the case or what the mechanisms are behind it, but it seems to be true for me.

Try straightening out your arm and pinching and pulling down on your extra elbow skin. When I wake up in the morning (dehydrated) it takes a second or two for the skin part to snap back into place. In the middle of the day when I've been drinking regularly, if I pull my elbow skin down it returns to elbow shape the moment I stop pinching.

If you're not feeling thirsty, maybe try the elbow thing and see how you react.
posted by phunniemee at 6:08 AM on August 24, 2010

I had the same problem with my thirst mechanism, and it bugged me, so I started drinking two or three glasses (well, coffee mugs) of water when I wake up in the morning, before I drink my three or four cups of coffee. It's actually helped me become more alert and less cranky, and I feel much less desperate for my first cup of coffee (and I drink my first cup much slower); I guess my desire for it was only partially the caffeine, and partially thirst I didn't know I felt! It really kickstarted my thirst, and after several weeks I started being better able to recognize when I was actually thirsty.

Bodies are cool.
posted by shamash at 6:20 AM on August 24, 2010

My urologist told me the way you can tell you are drinking enough water is by the color of your pee. It should be almost clear or a very light shade of pale yellow. I recently had a bout with a kidney stone so I learned all this the hard way.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 6:37 AM on August 24, 2010

It sounds like your natural body rhythms might be off anyway. You know how they say artificial light has disrupted our circadian rhythms? I'm thinking the fact that you sit in an artificially cold box from 9 to 5 every day is probably affecting the way your body handles temperature. Drinking that many lattes probably and regularly drinking wine at night doesn't unmask your natural body rhythms either.

Not that I mean to lecture you on your habits! However, if you're wondering why you aren't feeling your body go through the changes it's supposed to when your body is craving water, that's probably why--your body signals are ignored most of the time, so why not for this as well? I think this is the case for most busy people in the United States.

One thing I really recommend is the Camelbak water bottle. For some reason--I think it's the bite-valve--this bottle makes me drink so much more water! Carrying a water bottle with you will probably make you drink more water in general, but this Camelbak really amps it up.
posted by melancholyplay at 6:42 AM on August 24, 2010

Same here so I keep a 14 oz heavy glass tumbler of water on my desk when I am working. I constantly notice when it needs to be refilled but I never recall actually drinking it. I go through a lot of water that way.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:59 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's possible you're not thirsty because...you don't actually need to drink. The idea that we need to stay constantly hydrated by drinking water is a bit of a myth, probably perpetuated by the bottled water and Brita water filter industry IMHO. Coffee, wine and food all hydrate, so your two or three lattes in the morning and wine in the evening, plus all the food you eat, are giving you a lot of water already. Unless you have some special condition like kidney stones, you may not need to add that much more.
posted by yarly at 8:25 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I hardly drink anything and never have.
I don't like drinking with meals... and I'm never thirsty.
I've been this way my whole life.
It's sort of a joke with my family and friends.

Sometimes I can't even bring myself to drink anything because I'm really not thirsty. It's like trying to eat if I'm not hungry.

I know this is probably the cause of headaches and constipation, so I try my best (occasionally).

I also have narcolepsy and noticed that the part of my brain that is malfunctioning also controls thirst but I don't know if that has anything to do with it. My sister is like this, too.
Her car is full of almost-full water bottles.
posted by KogeLiz at 8:31 AM on August 24, 2010

Yeah, two words: PEE CLEAR. As mentioned above, if you're thirsty, you're already dehydrated. If you aren't peeing clear (or fluorescent if you take multi-vitamins or work in a Nuclear reactor...) then you're dehydrated. Just get a 1 liter Nalgene bottle, and fill and empty it 2-3 times a day, then you'll be fine. There's nothing wrong with you, I frequently see people hike for miles and never drink water until they're reminded, it's common to not be mouth-thirsty - if you want to get more precise though, you're probably body-thirsty and not realizing it: i.e. tired, headaches, etc. If you can start to think of those as signs that you're thirsty, you'll overcome the idea that you're 'not thirsty.'
posted by jardinier at 9:29 AM on August 24, 2010

Oddly enough, I sometimes feel tired when it turns out I'm actually thirsty. Or sometimes when I feel tired, it's because I'm hungry. Sometimes when I feel hungry, I'm actually just bored, or upset, or have seen some kind of really tempting commercial.

We're not really all that good at decoding our bodily needs, and yet we muddle through somehow.

Given that there's a lot of irrational and unscientific panic about dehydration, this really isn't that big a deal. You get a surprising amount of fluids from the food you eat and the other beverages you drink.

(Caffeinated beverages are not a net loss. The diuretic effects of caffeine are not that strong. And the "rule" of eight 8oz glasses a day is completely fabricated, having been invented whole cloth by a military pamphlet writer.)

I tend to get wrapped up in whatever I'm doing, and suddenly realize I'm wildly thirsty. To forestall this, I fill a water bottle and keep it at my desk. I find myself taking sips from it all day long without really paying attention. I'll just look up at the end of the day and realize that my bottle's empty.
posted by ErikaB at 11:31 AM on August 24, 2010

I never really drink enough, and yes, just like you I found myself drinking more when I started taking tablets. After reading some, I also found that I'm the kind of person whose mouth gets bored, and when it gets bored and thirsty I'm prone to snack instead of drink.

How am I solving this? Well, I lack the grown-up faculties to be able to drink from water bottles without spilling it all down my shirt, so I bought one of these: a 24 ounce reusable tumbler with a big old plastic straw in it. Because apparently I'm still 8, and I can't be trusted to drink from anything that doesn't have a straw, but once it does have a straw? I'll happily tote it around all day, drinking all the time. Also, Crystal Light peach iced tea packets help.
posted by redsparkler at 12:53 PM on August 24, 2010

It's possible you're not thirsty because...you don't actually need to drink. The idea that we need to stay constantly hydrated by drinking water is a bit of a myth, probably perpetuated by the bottled water and Brita water filter industry IMHO. Coffee, wine and food all hydrate, so your two or three lattes in the morning and wine in the evening, plus all the food you eat, are giving you a lot of water already. Unless you have some special condition like kidney stones, you may not need to add that much more.

Those things all hydrate, but they also require water to process. Probably more water than they contain. If I drink nothing but coffee, soda and wine during the day, guaran-goddamn-teed I'll be puffy and headachy (and probably constipated) the next few days. If I match what I drink with equal amounts of water, I'm golden. Maybe if I ate nothing but soup and citrus fruits the ratio would be different. This is true for anyone I've met or talked about this with.

(Caffeinated beverages are not a net loss. The diuretic effects of caffeine are not that strong. And the "rule" of eight 8oz glasses a day is completely fabricated, having been invented whole cloth by a military pamphlet writer.)

They are a net loss for me, and I bet for many others. As well as anything carbonated. It might have been fabricated, but it isn't wrong. And it can't hurt, so I don't see what the big deal with the "zomg, mythbuster bottled water companies" is.
posted by gjc at 1:16 PM on August 24, 2010

I relied on my coffee and other beverages to supply enough water until I developed a chronic illness and had an unrelated surgery when I was astonished to find I no longer enjoyed coffee. I was, however, absolutely required to drink an adequate amount of water with my meds. I found without the coffee, I actually got thirsty. After a while, when I started drinking a non-caffeinated tea daily, I again became much less thirsty although side effects of my medications proved I had to drink water as well even if I didn't feel the need.

When I drink enough water (just 6-8 glasses per day) plus juice and herbal tea, I don't have side effects, I don't have headaches, I don't get dehydrated. I think flavored beverages, quite apart from the diuretic effects of some of them, definitely interfere with my thirst mechanism. This, as well as the danger of UTIs and kidney stones, convince me to be diligent about drinking enough water. I'm not proselytizing, I am just a wimp about pain is all!
posted by Anitanola at 2:32 PM on August 24, 2010

My evidence for this is only personal experience, but I think our bodies extrapolate from our current condition to determine how to ration water, energy, etc. And after a certain point, the brain stops telling you how to survive and takes steps to do so on its own.

When you haven't been drinking water for a while, your body anticipates not getting any more water for an extended period of time, and it goes into water conservation mode. At some point your brain stops telling you you're thirsty, because it has decided you probably can't find water and it needs to change its approach to survive. Once you take that first sip of water, though, your body and brain realize that drinking water is once again a possibility. Being thirsty is once again relevant and helpful.
posted by RobinFiveWords at 3:52 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your contributions. I think, apart from just keeping water around and drinking once an hour or something, I should look for thirst disguised as fatigue or hunger, as some people suggested. That might help me understand the signals being sent.

melancholyplay: please don't assume everyone on the internet is in the USA
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:14 PM on August 24, 2010

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