If you are like so many caffeine lovers, you drink coffee every day, probably making a beeline for the coffee machine as soon as you wake up. In fact, 90 percent of adults in the U.S. consume caffeine almost daily, with coffee being the most popular way to get that caffeine fix. Although you might be in the habit of getting that first blast of java right after you get out of bed, some research shows that’s not the ideal time to get the most benefits from your coffee. There’s a sweet spot that could maximize your caffeine kick, and surprisingly, it’s not first thing in the morning.
When you first wake up, your body is typically high in cortisol—the stress hormone that makes you feel alert. Because your cortisol levels are at their peak, drinking coffee early can lower the vitalizing effects of the caffeine.
Instead, to get the most bang for your brew, some experts recommend drinking your coffee in the mid-morning or early afternoon. Getting a hit of caffeine about three to four hours after you wake up also will do the trick. That’s because at that point in the day, your body is low on cortisol and desperately needs a good pick-me-up, says Sherry A. Ross, MD, women’s health expert, author of She-ology the she-qual and founder of She-ology hormonal supplements for women.
“Most coffee drinkers need their caffeine-stimulating effect first thing in the morning to start their day,” she says. “The studies are inconsistent, but it’s thought that waiting until mid-morning—when cortisol levels are lower—is better since caffeine increases this feel-good hormone later in the day. Drinking caffeine first thing in the morning when cortisol levels are higher will decrease caffeine’s energizing affect. The choice is yours since the studies are inconsistent.”
How much caffeine should you drink?
Of course, if you can’t function without your morning cuppa, then by all means, continue drinking. Not everyone abides by the mid-morning theory. It’s the amount of caffeine you consume, not when you consume it, that matters the most, says registered dietitian nutritionist Melanie Dellinges. She recommends limiting your intake to two to four cups a day.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is a little more generous with its recommendations. The FDA says a healthy adult can usually drink up to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day—the equivalent of about four or five cups of coffee—with no negative effects. However, different people are more sensitive to caffeine and some have built up a caffeine tolerance. Regardless of when you decide to drink your java, try to avoid drinking coffee (or stick to decaf!) starting in mid-afternoon. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that drinking caffeine even six hours prior to bedtime significantly disturbed sleep compared to placebos. The study authors say that caffeine has “important disruptive effects on sleep,” so they suggest stopping caffeine at least six hours before you go to sleep.