concentrate [kon-suhn-treyt]
verb; to focus all one's attention on a particular object or activity.

We’ve all experienced the sheer frustration of reading numerous pages of a book, only to stop and realise we’ve taken in absolutely nothing of what was written on those long, long pages. You’ve probably done the same with people – how many times have you been sat in a lecture, hearing what your professor is saying but not actually listening? It’s an easy mistake to make, particularly for students; a constant cacophony of pings, rings and dings from phones, tablets and other hardware, and an often distinct lack of sleep combined with overstretched, overworked brains, all contribute to a serious inability to focus attention where it’s needed for any great length of time.

“Concentrate!” – it is a word that’s batted around everywhere throughout school, college and university, and even by our parents. So we should all be able to do it easily, right? Wrong. When our bodies and minds are deprived of vital components necessary for normal human function, concentration can be near impossible.

So how does water play a part? Interestingly, in stark contrast to its verb counterpart, a concentrate (noun) is described as a substance made by removing or reducing the diluting agent; a concentrated form of something; the more water removed, the more of a concentrated liquid the mix becomes. Perhaps we can learn from this notion – our brains are the substance, and they can be made better or worse by the adding or taking away of the diluting agent, i.e. water.

"Our brains can be made better or worse by the adding
or taking away of water."

A lack of ability to focus, increased fatigue and ‘brain fog’, sleep issues and headaches are all intrinsically linked to reduced intake of water. In this article, we’ll give some background information and guidance to help explain why drinking more water is fundamental to help increase your concentration and result in subsequent heightened performance. But before you continue, may we suggest you go grab a good-sized glass of H2O (in whatever form you prefer – iced, sparkling, still, hot with a slice of lemon) and sip it as you’re reading through. You’ll thank us later!

Body composition and cognition

Our bodies are made up of between 55% and 65% water, and most of this difference depends on your gender. Whether you’re male or female, that’s well over half of the entire human body. When you consider this enormous amount, it’s a wonder human beings aren’t a bunch of walking, talking Evian bottles :)

Joking aside, water maintains unrivalled importance in human bodily functions, including;

  • It is the first component of new cell building in the brain, skin, organs and muscles – this is especially key for gym bunnies/rats (what's a gym rat?) who are keen on muscle growth.
  • The body uses water in temperature regulation, and plays a role in the amount we perspire.
  • It acts as a shock absorber in the brain and spinal chord.
  • It assists in waste production and excretion.

Pretty impressive. Even more significant, however, is the dependency on water that our brains have. Our brain cells operate normally when they have the proper amounts of water and various other elements they need (namely oxygen and glucose). The human brain is a staggering 75% water, but surprisingly it has no ability to store any of the water it uses. As such, brains require a constant flow of the liquid to carry out every conscious function, including short-term and long-term memory retention. So, if we deprive our brains of water, our cells cannot function, which in turn affects the brain’s ability to maintain concentration.

The link between water and cognitive performance has been the central point of research for a number of years. A recent study by the University of East London and the University of Westminster found that drinking just 300ml of water can boost attention by up to 25% (feeling good about that glass of water now?). You may not believe these figures, but 25% brain improvement could be the difference between a 2:1 and a First in your next exam!

Mood and wellbeing

Brain performance aside, drinking plenty of water on a regular basis has also been proven to help us maintain a good state of mental health and wellbeing. And quite simply, the happier we are, the better time we’ll have at university and the more likely we are to enjoy our studies.

The manufacture by the brain of hormones and neurotransmitters is almost wholly dependent on water. Hormones and neurotransmitters are like the FedEx of our brains – they help send and deliver messages across the pathways – and we couldn’t function without them. Hormones are responsible for regulating necessary bodily functions like appetite, stress levels and sleep, and neurotransmitters control our nervous systems.

It’s normal to feel stressed and anxious during your time at university. You’re not alone if you at some point feel burdened by impending exam dates, looming essay deadlines and mounting loads of coursework – not to mention dwindling bank balances, living away from friends and family, and the pressure of maintaining social relationships, etc etc. When we’re feeling stressed, our brains are in an almost constant state of heightened emotion, and we’re more prone to developing anxiety. But consuming more water could help battle off those nasty anxious feelings. For example, a constant generous supply of water will help our brains properly regulate the production of cortisol, which is the hormone released when we're under threat and which makes us feel stressed.

Toxins and oxygen

As the name suggests, toxins (think ‘toxic waste’) are normal bi-products made by the body as it goes about its daily duty of keeping you alive and healthy. The body removes these toxins (a process known as detoxification) from the blood, kidneys, intestines, lungs, lymphatic system and the skin. But if they’re not removed properly, toxins can be harmful, and water plays an essential role in good detoxification. Hello water, sayonara toxic impurities!

As if water wasn’t already doing our bodies a big enough favour, it also assists in the delivery of oxygen, a vital element involved in every bodily process. Oxygen is taken into the body through breathing, diffuses into the red blood cells carried around the body in the blood, and is delivered to every single cell requiring oxygen to function normally. Our blood needs water for optimal composition and flow, so drinking more water means our tissues and organs will perform better thanks to oxygen-rich blood.

Let’s illustrate our point with a simple formula:

Lots of water
= better hormone regulation and neurotransmitter production
+ more oxygenated cells
– waste toxins
= increase your concentration

The extra marks you could potentially achieve makes drinking more water a no-brainer, right?

What we recommend

It’s easy for us to sit here, wag our proverbial finger and order you to drink more water. But we do understand it can be both difficult to remember to do, and a little unexciting. So to help encourage you to embark on your water journey, we’ve come up with some tips you can employ to make things easier and a little more, well, fun!

  • Set a daily target of drinking between 2 - 4 litres of water per day. Every morning, fill up bottles with the amount you intend to drink that day, and aim to finish every last drop (even it means downing the last litre before you hit the sack).
  • Keep a bottle by your desk or wherever you like to work – keeping it in your eyesight will remind you to keep sipping throughout the day.
  • Grab a Sharpie and draw lines on your bottle to mark how much you should drink each hour, to help you stay on target.
  • Set a challenge with a friend or colleague to see who can drink the most water per day – this is ideal for those of you who thrive on competition.
  • If you like your alcohol, we don’t expect you to give it up whilst at university, but try to drink a glass of water with or between every alcoholic beverage you consume. This tip gets bonus points – drinking water will also help prevent hangovers.
  • Jazz it up! You don’t just have to drink water in its basic, tasteless form. Throw in some ice, infuse it with fruits, have it hot with herbal tea, or opt for sparkling water with a dash of lemon for a fizzy, fun alternative. The options are endless and all still beneficial.

Do remember that your required daily intake of water differs hugely between individuals, depending on your age, body make-up, how much you exercise and whether you are pregnant or breastfeeding. If in doubt, always speak to your GP.

So what are you waiting for? Get drinking, stay hydrated, and do let us know if you feel the benefits!