Why your first cup of coffee might not be helping as much as you'd like
If you’re a coffee lover, you probably already know there are some pretty great health benefits, but we’re guessing your main reason for drinking it might be that fantastic caffeine high you get that helps you make it through the day.
Here’s what you may not know: There are prime times during your day to drink coffee to get the best effects, and those times aren't necessarily first thing in the morning.
It comes down to basically being a matter of cortisol — the hormone in your body that's a major regulator for things like metabolism, immune response and response to stress — and your body’s circadian rhythm — the 24-hour internal clock that cycles between sleepiness and alertness.
Dr. Steven L. Miller, a neuroscientist postdoctoral research fellow at the Geisel School of Medicine in Dartmouth, explained in a blog that if you’re drinking your coffee at 8 a.m., the circadian rhythm of cortisol production would suggest you’re not drinking it at the best time.
In the morning, specifically between the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., most people’s cortisol concentration in the blood is at its peak, which means you’re at your highest level of alertness in your 24-hour rhythm.
If you’re drinking coffee during that timeframe, you’re drinking it at a time when you’re already naturally at your maximum level of alertness.
Miller said the key to a drug is to use it when it is needed. Drinking coffee during your natural cortisol peak can cause you to develop a tolerance to caffeine.
“In other words, the same cup of morning coffee will become less effective,” Miller said.
He said instead, the best time to drink a cup of coffee is when your cortisol levels are dropping before the next spike, adding that those peaks come between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., noon to 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
“In the morning then, your coffee will probably be the most effective if you enjoy it between 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.,” Miller wrote in his blog.
So there you have it. Even if coffee is the first thing you want to taste in the morning, if you’re using it for a pick-me-up, it might behoove you to try waiting a little while.
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