The pros and cons of drinking coffee could be debated for hours. Every day, it seems there is a different study telling us it is slowly killing us, helping us live longer, giving us cancer, helping to fend off cancer, making our workouts worse, making our workouts better, making us more creative, reducing our creativity and turning us into mindless robots, etc.
Basically, the health effects of coffee are somewhat out of our control it seems. But what could be in our control is reaping the benefits of the caffeine high we get from it and that apparently depends on what time we drink it. It turns out you have probably been drinking your coffee at the wrong time for years.
See it all has to do with your cortisol level, also known as the stress hormone. When you first wake up your body is producing high amounts of cortisol so you are naturally pretty alert (even if you still feel sleepy.) So drinking a cup of coffee immediately when waking up would actually be a bit redundant when you already have high levels of cortisol and more caffeine could make you stressed.
Plus, when the caffeine and cortisol do start to drop a few hours later, you are going to feel a major plunge in your energy and that will not feel good — and will probably result in you drinking more coffee. The ideal time, according to Laura Cipullo, registered dietitian and author of Women’s Health Body Clock Diet, to have your first cup is about four hours after you wake up.
If that one cup isn’t enough and you are trying to plan for your second and maybe third cup, neuroscientist Steven L. Miller says peak cortisol levels are between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., noon and 1 p.m. and then 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. So aim for your second cup right after lunch, but before 3 p.m. If you drink coffee after 3 p.m., your whole life is apparently doomed.
Research out of Michigan’s Henry Ford Hospital’s Sleep Disorders & Research Center and Wayne State College of Medicine looked at the sleep-disruptive effects of caffeine consumption before bedtime and found that caffeine consumed even six hours before people go to bed could significantly diminish sleep quality and sleep quantity.
It doesn’t matter what your wake up time is, if your sleep is poor, that will be what impacts your energy levels the next day.
So, if you just start being more careful about when you drink your various cups of coffee you may notice it helping you more. However, keep in mind that the Mayo Clinic, says adults shouldn’t be consuming more than 400 mg of caffeine per day — which is roughly four cups of coffee.
Try starting with your biggest cup of coffee in the morning and then as the day goes on, lower your caffeine intake. Fill up your cup less, or maybe instead try tea or matcha.
Meredith Lepore is the Deputy Editor of Ladders. She is based in New York City and can be reached at email@example.com.