Sipping vs. Gulping: HOW you drink may matter more than HOW MUCH

Water consumption is something we hear a lot about.  We all know water is essential for life, and being adequately hydrated has all sorts of physical and mental health benefits.  For years, we had the recommendation of 8 eight-oz glasses of water each day, for a total of 64 ounces.  More recently, we're told to try and drink half of our body weight in ounces (for some of us more than the old 64 oz recommendation, others less).  However, with all the focus on how much we should drink each day, what has been lost is how we should be drinking water.



The human body is a finely tuned machine, working to distribute water as efficiently as possible to the various organs and cells of the body.  We all know that when we start to feel dehydrated, the body signals us to drink more by giving us the feeling of thirst.  When we have more water than we need to operate, the body can also respond by flushing more water out to make sure the correct amount stays within the body.


While the voiding process is complex and depends on many different factors, research out of Canada has shown when we sip water regularly instead of gulping down larger amounts, urine excretion is 6 times lower!  The body absorbs more of the water and stays hydrated, but it doesn't result in increased trips to the bathroom.


“When the absorption of water from the intestinal tract was retarded because it....was consumed slowly (sipping), a water diuresis did not occur, despite producing the same positive water balance”



Urinary Urgency and Frequency


Urinary urgency and frequency is a common symptom of pelvic floor dysfunction and of pelvic pain conditions like interstitial cystitis.  Many times patients will limit their water intake to try and reduce the number of trips they are forced to make to the bathroom.


However, using what we know about sipping water, it's possible to do a better job of staying hydrated while minimizing trips to the bathroom.  Sipping water, rather than drinking a lot over a short period of time, seems to allow the body to efficiently process the water and hydrate, without the spike in urination we see with gulping water.

Changing Bad Habits


Unfortunately, this is in contrast to how many of us drink water.  We'll have a full glass with a meal or pause in our day to gulp down a water bottle, and then don't drink anything for several hours. 


To combat these bad habits, we created a new tool for our patients - a water bottle that measures and regulates intake through the day to encourage regular sipping.  (It's also available for purchase in our online store).  Filling and drinking two full bottles worth will give you the recommended water intake for the day, but the hourly goals prevent gulping.




Other Bladder Health


While changing how you drink can be an easy and helpful tool, there are obviously other factors that greatly impact urinary urgency and frequency.

  • Pelvic Floor Physical TherapyWhen pelvic floor muscles are tight and strained they irritate the nerves within the pelvic floor.  The brain often interprets this as the need to urinate, even if the bladder has just been emptied.  By resolving the underlying pelvic floor dysfunction, pelvic PT can help resolve bladder issues.

  • Avoid Bladder Irritants.  Some food and drinks are known to be common bladder irritants.  These can include alcohol, carbonated beverages, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, spicy foods, and citrus fruit.  You can also use an elimination diet to help determine what unique food or drink triggers that you might have.

  • Bladder Training.  With urinary urgency and frequency, patients often become used to responding immediately to the need to use the bathroom.  Bladder training works to re-educate the bladder, trying to increase the time between voidings.



Additional Resources



Dr. Nicole Cozean is the founder of PelvicSanity physical therapy, Orange County's premier pelvic floor physical therapy clinic.  One of only 270 PTs to be board-certified in the pelvic floor, and the first PT to serve on the ICA Board of Directors, Nicole is the author of the acclaimed and best-selling book The Interstitial Cystitis Solution (2016).  She is an adjunct professor at her alma mater, Chapman University. The PelvicSanity blog focuses on presenting practical, positive information to help patients beyond the walls of Nicole's clinic. 

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