Hydration and cognition: a critical review and recommendations for future research

J Am Coll Nutr. 2007 Oct;26(5 Suppl):555S-561S. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2007.10719658.


The limited literature on the effects of dehydration on human cognitive function is contradictory and inconsistent. Although it has been suggested that decrements in cognitive performance are present in the range of a 2 to 3% reduction in body weight, several dose-response studies indicate dehydration levels of 1% may adversely affect cognitive performance. When a 2% or more reduction in body weight is induced by heat and exercise exposure, decrements in visual-motor tracking, short-term memory and attention are reported, but not all studies find behavioral effects in this range. Future research should be conducted using dose-response designs and state-of-the-art behavioral methods to determine the lowest levels of dehydration that produce substantive effects on cognitive performance and mood. Confounding factors, such as caffeine intake and the methods used to produce dehydration, need to be considered in the design and conduct of such studies. Inclusion of a positive control condition, such as alcohol intake, a hypnotic drug, or other treatments known to produce adverse changes in cognitive performance should be included in such studies. To the extent possible, efforts to blind both volunteers and investigators should be an important consideration in study design.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Caffeine / pharmacology
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / pharmacology
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Dehydration / complications*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Memory, Short-Term / drug effects
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / drug effects
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Research / organization & administration*
  • Severity of Illness Index


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Caffeine