You wake up. Stretch your arms, yawn, and head to the kitchen for that magical early-morning cuppa joe. It’s a timeless ritual for millions of Americans, but one new study is revealing an interesting new fact about the coffee we drink each morning. While it can help us to wake up and get motivated for the day, it seems most of us may be drinking it at the wrong time. We’ll tell you about this new study and what it means for your morning routine in today’s post.
• First, the facts: the human body produces cortisol at peak levels approximately three times per day. While cortisol is technically “the stress hormone,” it also plays a critical role in overall wakefulness, motivation, and whether or not we have the energy to get through the day.
• The first and most important cortisol peak for most people occurs within about an hour after waking up in the morning. That fact is important because ingesting caffeine at the same time cortisol peaks can actually cause your body to become confused. It misinterprets the stimulant boost as a reason to produce less cortisol over time.
• Why does this matter? Cortisol is critical to wakefulness; if you produce too little, you may feel sluggish or even exhausted. Eventually, altered cortisol levels also impact caffeine tolerance, which is probably why chronic coffee drinkers need two or more cups just to feel awake (not energized) each morning.
• The biggest problem here is that symptoms aren’t always easy to recognize; we can misinterpret the usual morning caffeine buzz as cortisol’s natural wakefulness. Instead, low cortisol production manifests later in the morning in the form of a “crash.”
• And now, the good news: this doesn’t mean drinking coffee is useless, or even that you shouldn’t drink it at all. Researchers leading the study also pointed out that what may be needed the most is a simple shift in scheduling. By waiting for at least an hour before your first cup, you give your body time to trigger cortisol production, lessening the risk of caffeine interference.
• Best of all, drinking coffee slightly later in the day may also help you feel more wakeful for a longer period of time. Boring meetings aside, that can help you get through the day until cortisol levels peak again (usually around lunchtime), so you don’t hit that awful sluggish after lunch feeling.
Can’t bear the thought of going without your morning java? Try switching it up just for the first hour. Have a hot, naturally decaffeinated tea instead; you’ll get your fix for a hot drink, with less overload, reducing the risk for cortisol issues, too.