It may sound like a pie-in-the-sky headline but science has proved that drinking water boosts brain function and activity. This can be a welcome and much-needed boost at a crucial time such as exams. But how can something as simple as water actually provide fuel to something as complex as our brain?
We have known for a long time that water and brain function are linked. When we are dehydrated (even if we are not aware of it), we start to develop numerous symptoms that we can often confuse with other conditions. For example, lack of water interrupts our memory and ability to focus, leading to brain ‘fog’ and fatigue. Add to this headaches, problems sleeping, irritability, even depression, and it is easy to see why water is so important. The human body is composed of more than 70% water, and a good proportion of this is in the brain and skull. Water really is the stuff of life, responsible for the proper functioning of both our brains and nervous systems. Imbalance However, many of us do not drink enough water. Our bodies are constantly processing liquid and we eliminate more than you may realise through urine, breathing and sweating. Problems occur because the majority of us simply do not drink enough water. Hence, our bodies quickly become out of balance, working harder than they need to for the sake of an extra glass of water or two on a daily basis
Water and the brain
The brain is the most important organ in your body; without it, you cannot and will not function. With 85% of brain tissue being made from water, making sure it has a constant supply of water is essential. Research has shown that brain cells need twice as much energy than other cells in the human body and that this energy comes from water. Thus, when your brain is functioning on its full quota of water, you will think faster, be better focused, think more clearly and be more creative – all perfect ingredients for an excellent performance under exam conditions. But this is not a one-off, short-term issue; many people think that drinking lots of water is the way forward but you need to remember that water cannot be stored by the body. Unless you are constantly keeping yourself well hydrated throughout the day, your body will use up water, leading eventually to the initial signs of dehydration - headaches, irritability, etc. This is one of the reasons why students in school and university exams are encouraged to take water in with them.
Do the maths!
When we think of dehydration, we tend to think of extreme cases where people are severely ‘starved’ of water. But dehydration is a condition that comes on quickly, albeit in a mild form initially. It can, however, be easily reversed. But even when faced with the initial stages of dehydration, the impacts on the human body might be more profound than you realise. Scientific research has shown a student who is ‘only’ 1% dehydrated will experience a 5% fall in their cognitive (thinking) function. Increase this to a dehydration level of 2% and cognitive function falls even lower with many people struggling to access their short-term memory, finding it difficult to focus and having problems solving mathematical calculations. Studies have shown that prolonged and chronic dehydration can cause brain cells to actually shrink in both size and mass. Yet another reason why drinking more water is top of many people’s list!
So, we should all drink more water…?
In a nutshell, yes! In order to keep your brain functioning at optimal speed and capacity for you, you need to be drinking steadily throughout the day. The obvious downside of this is that you may need to pop to the loo more often, but studies suggest that steady consumption of water is far more helpful than glugging down litres and litres in one go (drinking too much in a short space of time is dangerous; hyponatremia is where the blood becomes waterlogged, with the human body effectively being drowned). The safest way to maintain your hydration level is to:
- Drink between 12 and 16floz of water as soon as you wake up – this gives your body a welcome hydration boost
- Keep a bottle of water with you through the day, drinking from it at regular intervals
- Drink some water if you start to get tetchy or feel a headache coming on
- Drink first before reaching for that cream cake as thirst is commonly mistaken for hunger!
And when it comes to exam time, maintain your hydration level throughout the revision stage AND during the exam; as few as 25% of exam candidates take bottled water into the exam venue, meaning the majority are already putting themselves at a disadvantage before the exam has even started! Don’t be one of them!