- The body releases cortisol first thing in the morning, which clashes with caffeine.
- Waiting until the stress hormone’s effects decrease will help you benefit more from the caffeine.
- Research suggests the optimal time to wait would be between one and four hours.
Once you’ve turned off your alarm, is your first move to go over to the coffee machine and make yourself a cup of joe?
A caffeine fix is a pretty common way of waking up in the morning and getting ready to tackle the day’s tasks.
Despite how widespread a habit it may be, there are reasons you may want to start delaying your first cup of coffee in the morning.
Doing so can help you prolong the beneficial effect you’re looking for in caffeine as a boost to get you up and running.
It’s all about cortisol — the stress hormone is naturally released by your body every morning, along with adrenaline. The hormone gives you energy and keeps you concentrated and alert.
“Cortisol usually starts to rise around 4 a.m., as does epinephrine (adrenaline), to get you ready for the day,” cardiothoracic surgeon at the Center for Restorative Medicine at the International Heart and Lung Institute Steven Gundry, M.D told the Huffington Post. “Both cause blood sugar (glucose) to rise, so you have plenty of available fuel.” If you add to this natural energy rush the one you get from caffeine, the two stimulants may actually clash and make you feel more jittery than usual.
“There is some science behind isolating caffeine and peak cortisol so they don’t go head to head and have negative compounded effects in the body [like the jitters],” nutritionist Tracy Lockwood Beckerman told the Huffington Post. “You basically want the caffeine in the coffee to shine as a solo artist and not be influenced by the strong effects of cortisol.”
Dietitian and author of Women’s Health Body Clock Diet, Laura Cipullo, expressed the same sentiments on CNBC Make It.
“Definitely limit coffee when you first wake up,” she said.
The best approach would be to turn to caffeine when your cortisol levels start to drop, which happens “around three to four hours after waking up” according to Cipullo.
This way, you’ll get that “boost” of energy when your energy naturally begins to wane.
If you’re still feeling lethargic after clocking that you might have to wait a few hours for your first cup of coffee and you don’t feel up to it, you may prefer Beckerman’s suggestion, which calls for a shorter waiting period.
According to his advice, the best time to drink your coffee may be one hour after waking up.
Cortisol-derived alertness and concentration tend to peak 30 to 45 minutes after waking up. Therefore, waiting about an hour will give you the “true caffeine effect.”
There’s another good reason why you might want to wait a little longer to have your first cup of coffee — drinking coffee on an empty stomach could be detrimental to your health. Especially in the long run as it can damage your digestive system, alter your nervous system, and throw your circadian rhythm out of whack.
However, if the next morning you know you’ve got to do something that requires you to be awake and energetic, and you don’t tend to get jittery, then you might want to turn to that cortisol and caffeine combo.
“The caffeine in coffee also increases glucose, so if you want to get up and going, especially for a workout or just walking the dog, have that cup of coffee,” said Gundry.
But if you only drink coffee when you wake up because you can’t start your day otherwise, you’re probably better off getting a good night’s sleep the night before.