Nurse Health: Why Hydration Matters and How to Maintain It

By Moira K. McGhee, Contributor

Your body depends on hydration to survive because all your organs, cells and tissue need water to perform properly. Water makes up more than half of your body weight and you lose water all the time, especially while sweating when you're active. Nursing shifts typically keep you very active, and the more active you are, the faster you lose water. If you don't replace this water, you can become dehydrated. Staying hydrated is critical to your health and well-being, but it can be difficult to maintain hydration during hectic 12-hour shifts or night shifts when you're more likely to be understaffed.

Why Is Hydration So Important?

It's vital to drink water every day - about six to eight 8-ounce glasses to be exact. Staying hydrated helps promote clearer thinking, improve physical performance, boost your mood and fight off fatigue and drowsiness, which your patients definitely appreciate. Proper hydration improves circulation and helps absorb shock on your joints, which can prevent aches, pains and muscle cramps during busy shifts. Plus, staying hydrated can help prevent diseases, ease headaches, promote weight loss and stimulate clearer skin, which helps you stay healthy and happy.

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Staying Hydrated While Nursing

Signs You're Dehydrated

As a nurse, you probably spend part of your shifts ensuring your patients drink enough fluids and are familiar with the signs of dehydration. Many nurses, however, don't pay as much attention to their own needs, including recognizing that they're becoming dehydrated themselves. If you feel thirsty, chances are you're already dehydrated. Other signs you should never ignore include:

• Darker than usual urine

• Little or no urine

• Fatigue or sleepiness

• Difficulty concentrating

• Confusion or disorientation

• Dizziness or feeling lightheaded

• Extreme dry mouth

• Headache

Don't wait until you're already exhibiting symptoms of dehydration. Focus on prevention by drinking water every chance you get.

Water and Other Suitable Fluids

Water is the best fluid for staying hydrated, but other fluids can also help improve hydration. Add to your water intake with fruit and vegetable juices, herbal teas and milk. You also get some water from caffeinated drinks, such as soda, coffee and tea, but take care not to overdo caffeine.Too much caffeine can contribute to anxiety, insomnia, digestive issues, muscle breakdown, high blood pressure, fatigue, mood swings and frequent urination.

Sports drinks that contain carbohydrates and electrolytes can be beneficial during physically demanding or fast-paced shifts. These drinks help increase your water intake and energy levels while also replacing vital minerals that help balance the amount of water in your body. However, steer clear of sports drinks that contain a lot of sugar, sodium and/or caffeine. Avoid energy drinks altogether, which aren't the same as sports drinks and overstimulate you with large amounts of caffeine, sugar and other ingredients your body doesn't need.

Ways to Stay Hydrated

During 12-hour shifts, nurses are lucky when they get a lunch and two breaks. Sometimes these breaks are the only chance you get to drink water, which isn't sufficient for proper hydration. An easy way to get more water is to keep a bottle of water with you throughout your shift, but many hospitals don't allow nurses to carry water bottles into patient care areas because the bottle can become contaminated with germs.

If you're having a difficult time staying hydrated, Alice Benjamin, a Cardiac Clinical Nurse Specialist with 20 years of nursing experience, offers some great tips on her blog, including:

• Setting an alarm to remind yourself to drink water every two hours

• Drinking sparkling water or water infused with fruit, veggies or herbs, if you don't like plain water•Eating fresh fruit that's full of water, such as melons, berries and grapes

• Limiting salty, fried foods that can contribute to dehydration

• Replenishing electrolytes, especially in fast-paced and/or hot environments

The summer is agreat time to concentrate on different ways you can stay hydrated throughout your nursing shifts. Try some of the tips suggested above or brainstorm with nurses you work with on ways you can help each other remember and/or find time to drink more fluids.

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