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Naughty or Nice?: A Tale of Caffeine and Dehydration

Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA

Skeleton from Rancho la Puerta

Dehydration Takes a Heavy Toll

Have liquids ever been your downfall? Specifically, NON-alcoholic ones. The other day I was ultra-cranky, especially at my daughter and husband. Of course it was all their fault. Or the stress of the holidays. Except the holiday season doesn’t really stress me out. The bad error my husband had made was bringing in wood to build a fire for Christmas Eve. My daughter had the nerve to ask me to stay up late to scratch her back (she just graduated from college and had flown home a few nights prior).

photo 3

My husband after I bit his head off. And torso. Yes, I was that cranky.

Feeling Irritable?

Snip, snap, I bit their heads off! Someone just earned a spot on the Naughty list and it wasn’t either of them. Normally I am cheerful and fairly even tempered (hush up Alexandra!) and consider it a Christmas gift to send my daughter to sleep by scratching her back and petting her hair. And I appreciate my husband tackling chores to make us more comfy in our new house.

So what was going on that sent me over the edge? Blaming menopause seemed like a convenient idea, but I knew it was not accurate. Fortunately I had enough self-awareness to realize something was unusual beyond fatigue. Have you ever been uncharacteristically moody without knowing quite why?

Caffeine Messes with Your Mind and Mood

Turns out I had entered a liquidy perfect storm. Caffeine was largely to blame. However I don’t drink coffee or sodas, so the caffeine answer was not obvious at first. But many of you might be coffee drinkers. Or soft drink imbibers. In fact, if you drink more than 3-4 cups a day or are particularly sensitive to caffeine then you may also turn into a Grinch.

Here’s the gig: Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, with one of its effects being to increase irritability. Other effects (courtesy of the Mayo Clinic) include:

  • Insomnia
  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Stomach upset
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Muscle tremors

Who Loves Thai Iced Tea? Look Out!

Me in attack mode
The Thai Tea Effect on Me

Did you know all that? I had not really paid attention to caffeine’s downsides as I rarely intake any. But I had developed a new habit, now broken. Since visiting Thailand in March with my mom and sister, I had come home with a new appreciation for Thai Iced Teas. (Read about our leech hike escapades in Thailand, how we sweat a lot in Thailand, and tips on what to pack when it’s 100 degrees out). At $3.50 to $4.00 per drink at the local Thai Donut and Bagel store (doesn’t everyone have a place like this nearby?), I had limited my indulgence to once a week. Until……. I discovered last week that the local Japanese specialty item shop sold Thai tea mix bags, ready to brew! Whoo hoo! Guess what? A $5.00 bag with the artificial yellowy-orange coloring already in it yields cup after delicious cup. For pennies per swig! Just boil water, add sugar and milk, and string me up like Christmas lights!

You see where this warning about caffeine is going. I went from one expensive cup per week of black tea cleverly disguised at Thai Iced Tea to three frugal and full cups in one day. The day I gave the gift of instant snapback to my family. But like George Clooney in Perfect Storm, I was headed into more troubled waters. Or lack of, as it turns out. Because now this liquid tale gets updated news relevant to all of us, whether we exercise or not; whether we take in caffeine or not.

Wat-er The Heck is Going On?

ALERT! Dehydration makes people IRRITABLE! CRANKY! WITCH ON WATERWHEELS! (women more than men, wouldn’t you know it).

Even mild dehydration can change your mood, ability to think straight, and energy level, according to two studies just conducted at the University of Connecticut’s Human Performance Laboratory. Sure, we all know that too little water can cause headaches, fatigue, and yellow pee. But the bad mood angle is kinda new. Or at least it was to me.

water bottle and sky

Water Up!

Normally I have one water bottle in my car, one in my gym bag, another in the refrigerator, and one in the freezer. But the past few days, my schedule has been almost as out of whack as my mood, what with my daughter coming home, my husband on teaching break, and my sister out of town. I was running late wherever I went so kept neglecting to grab water.

Drink this: Get on the Nice List

Drink this: Be on the Nice List

We lose about a liter per day of water just through normal respiration. Add in walking dogs, teaching step class, sweating a lot, and installing flooring (just as a random example), and the need to replenish water becomes more critical. Yes, I had just ordered a double expressed dose of “frothy a lotte” at the mouth — too much caffeine and too little water.

You can avoid taking my journey and stay on the “Nice” list. If you find the holiday season challenges your normally calm, loving, low-stress mood, then keep caffeine down and water up! Say good-bye to unusually high levels of cranky-puss and drink a lot this season. Watery, decaf drinks. Take it from me, Or else!

Get on the Nice List all year when you:

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