When you're desperately pursuing a caffeine hit the time of day matters more than you might think.

I was a bit of a latecomer to coffee. I’d always loved the smell but could never actually manage to drink the stuff. Lacing it with milk and sugar didn’t help much either as it just turned “dear lord that’s bitter” into “dear lord that’s bitter and now I feel sick”.

Not the best of starts I grant but I persevered and today I feel like a right proper grown up with my Americano in a paper cup with a plastic lid which, let’s face it, is just a tommee tippee for big people.

I even drink the odd espresso from a tiny cup and pretend I’m a giant. I’m so rock and roll.

One thing I don’t do to fit in with the cool kids however, is drink coffee first thing in the morning when I wake up. It’s not because I’m too lazy to pop a Nespresso or grind some beans I swear. It’s actually to do with the whole ‘body clock’ thing.


Tick tock body clock

When you wake up naturally in the morning, i.e. without the cat sitting on your face or your 2-year-old using your abdomen as a trampoline, a hormone called cortisol helps lift you out of sleep. Cortisol’s usually called ‘the stress hormone’ as it’s the star of the whole ‘fight or flight’ thing; that’s when you inadvertently picnic next to a wasp nest and make the decision to leg it rather than take on the unholy swarm.

When waking up though, the stress cortisol puts you under isn’t the horrible stuff lots of us contend with every day but more like being poked with a stick when you need to get your lazy arse out of bed. See, it’s kind of helpful.

Here’s the thing though. Your cortisol levels are typically at their highest first thing in the morning when you’re limping out of bed and reaching for your coffee cup. You’re essentially running on your body’s own natural buzz.

At the root of that familiar coffee ‘hit’ lies good old caffeine and it’s the caffeine that gives you that ‘awake’ feeling by increasing your cortisol levels [1] and blocking a few choice receptors in your brain that make you feel sleepy [2] (this is also why it’s not a great idea to drink coffee before bed). Mix some of your favourite 100 percent Arabica into the mix at breakfast and you’re soliciting your first coffee high at a time of day when you’re least likely to feel it.

I don’t know about you but I kind of like the ‘lift’ coffee gives you. It’s one of the simpler pleasures in my wildly rock and roll life. So, for me, that’s reason enough to forgo an espresso first thing in the morning.

Hello caffeine addict

There’s also another reason why I tend to ditch coffee with breakfast and it’s all about my future health, wellbeing, prosperity and happiness! Ok, it’s not quite that dramatic but because caffeine increases your cortisol levels so efficiently, if you keep drinking coffee at a time when cortisol is genuinely needed, i.e. in the morning, your body will lower its own production and come to rely on the caffeine to do the job instead. This means you probably won’t feel that pleasurable caffeine hit you’re after and before you know it that 1 cup becomes 6, your single espresso becomes a double and your grande becomes a venti. It’s a slippery slope baby!

There’s nothing wrong with being a self-professed addict …of coffee that is, but I’d rather not be one of those people who becomes reliant on it like some kind of Nero Junkie, shaking in anticipation of his next euphoric fix.


How to maximise your coffee buzz

There’s no hard and fast rule as to when you should drink coffee (thank God!) but if you’re looking to get the most from your Jamaican Blue Mountain or Monsoon Malabar then generally you’re aiming for times in the day when your cortisol levels are naturally at their lowest. Those times vary from person to person but they’re loosely between 9:30 and 11:30am and 1:00 to 5:00pm, give or take a nanosecond [3] .

I wouldn’t recommend drinking any later in the day than this as even if you don’t feel it, the caffeine will have a knock-on effect on your sleep and, as I found out the hard way, you’ll likely be a miserable bugger come morning and nobody will talk to you.

Drink up.