How Early After Waking Up Should You Drink Coffee?

What Is The Right Time To Drink Coffee?

Waking Up And Drinking Coffee

Every day in America, people from coast to coast wake up stumbling to the kitchen to prepare their first coffee of the day. They know that they need that caffeine kick to get them through the day. Over half of all adults drink at least one cup of coffee per day, but the average is closer to 3.1 cups of coffee a day according to the National Coffee Association. So, if this is true, why is everyone still so sleepy? Science is starting to show that it matters more on when a person consume caffeine rather than if one consumes caffeine.

Wait About an Hour or So

Contrary to what you may believe, people don’t actually need a cup of coffee right when they first wake up. In fact, research is showing that most people are not getting the big bang out of their coffee buck. According to Dr. W. Christopher Winter, a sleep medicine expert at Charlottesville Neurology & Sleep Medicine in Virginia, the best time to drink that first cup of joe comes at about an hour after waking up. The reason being is the hormones needed to help one wake up are already at their highest when one first opens their eyelids.

“Shortly after waking is probably one of the high points of the day,” says Winter, “It is the time when…you would be at the lowest point at the sleepiness spectrum.”

Believe it or not, caffeine doesn’t just “kick in” right after you take your first sip of coffee. It takes close to two hours for caffeine to reach a peak. Because of this, waiting to have coffee will allows the chemical to do its best work when it really counts. It can help one avoid that mid-to-late morning slump says Dr. Joe Ojile, founder and CEO of Clayton Sleep Institute in St. Louis.

Blame It on the Circadian Rhythm

In what sounds like a great name for a jazz band, the body’s circadian rhythm (aka one’s biological clock) operates best when people respect it. Cortisol can be considered a “waking up” hormone that is related to alertness. Cortisol levels usually peak between 8 and 9 a.m. Studies have shown that drinking coffee during this time frame can actually hamper one’s natural waking up process making the cortisol less effective.

Worse yet, when people continue to drink coffee during this time frame, the caffeine becomes less effective. Sleepy people will find that they will have to consume more and more caffeine to get that same boost that they are used to.

Meanwhile, other hormones like melatonin (which promotes sleepiness) and adenosine (which suppresses arousal) are at their lowest levels when one wakes up.

The Curious Thing about Cortisol

One can’t control one’s cortisol surge. It is regulated by sunlight so it will kick into gear on its schedule, not the person’s. Just because one might “sleep in” cortisol won’t. However, cortisol levels have been known to spike by 50 percent right after one wakes up regardless of what time it is.

Scientists have also found the cortisol rises a couple more times a day (between 12 p.m.-1 p.m. and 5:30-6:30 p.m.) so it is best to avoid drinking coffee at those times as well.

Waiting Even Longer Might Even Be Better

Some doctors suggest that it is best to not consume coffee within three hours of waking up or three hours before going to bed because caffeine might be more powerful than we think.

Kenneth Wright, a sleep physiologist says that one’s circadian rhythm effects every part of the body. He says that it “”is in your fat cells; it’s in your muscle cells. It’s in your liver, for example, as well as in your brain.” He concludes that when one consumes caffeine at the “wrong time” it can really mess things up within one’s body.

Wright conducted a 49-day sleep study where a group of people were given either exposure to bright light, exposure to dim light, a double espresso shot or a placebo about three hours before they went to sleep. Not surprisingly, the subjects who drank the double espresso shot before bedtime caused their melatonin hormone to be delayed by about 40 minutes causing a regular sleep disturbance which in turn lead to a lower immune system.

Introducing the Coffee Nap

Maybe all one needs is just a really good nap. To make one even better, Dr. Winter suggests drinking a cup of coffee about a half hour before you lie down. The caffeine won’t actually kick in until after one wakes up causing one to feel more refreshed.

“I think there is a lot of positivity to a nap and that is very wakefulness promoting and the caffeine is very wakefulness promoting,” says Winter.


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