Yes, over-hydration is actually a thing.
Keeping yourself hydrated is undoubtedly one of the most important ways you can support your health. Proper hydration is vital for almost every function of the body. You can’t live for more than a few days without water, but you can last three weeks without food.
Dehydration is a major problem for many Americans, but did you know that overhydration is dangerous, too?
Overhydration dilutes the electrolytes in your blood, which can cause muscle cramping, and even hyperhydration, or ‘water poisoning’. The most common issue comes when hyperhydration dilutes that amount of sodium in your blood, which can cause issues with the gut like nausea, vomiting, or loss of appetite, and even lead to seizures, comas, or mental issues, since sodium is responsible for many brain functions.
We tend to drink more water when undergoing strenuous physical activities like marathon training or military service. So here a few ways you can tell if you are overhydrating.
Clear, frequent urination. In terms of urine color, you should always strive for a light yellow hue. It’s not necessarily dangerous to have clear pee, but if it is always clear, you are likely drinking too much water and should hold off until you are actually thirsty. In terms of frequency, you should probably be urinating every 3-4 hours. If you are going more often than that, hyperhydration might be a concern.
Muscle cramping. When your body is low on sodium it can cause muscle cramps and spasms. Sodium is one of the main electrolytes effected by overhydration. If you feel these symptoms, drink an electrolyte drink, and lay off the water for a bit.
Nausea, vomiting, headache, confusion. If you are experiencing more serious symptoms but don’t know the root cause, consider how much you are drinking. If you drink water even when you aren’t thirsty, you might be overdoing it. You can overcome this by drinking only when you feel thirsty or your mouth is dry.
At the end of the day there is no real answer for how much you should drink, as it varies from person to person. A good rule of thumb is to only drink when you are actually thirsty, and keep in mind that very active people and those who live in warmer climates may need to drink more to maintain the same level of hydration. Higher elevations also factor into the need for water consumption.
Listen to your body and it will tell you what it needs. But I can assure you that unless you are traversing a desert, a gallon or more of water per day is not something it needs.