Healthy Drinks

Your Morning Coffee Might Backfire If You Drink It Too Early

Emily Laurence

Photo: Getty Images/Halfpoint
Most days, the promise of a cup of coffee is literally what gets me out of bed in the morning. In order to resist the gravitational pull of my pillow, I need to know there's something waiting for me in the kitchen that's going to help me power through the first few hours of the day.

Unfortunately, drinking coffee before 9:30 a.m. might create more stress in the body. (Yeah, I definitely don't need that.) Cortisol—aka the stress hormone—is naturally highest between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. When you drink coffee, the caffeine interferes with the cortisol levels, which can lead to feeling more stressed and anxious. This is why some people experience morning anxiety.

"Although there hasn't been much research done in humans on the interplay between coffee, cortisol, and the circadian rhythm, we know enough about each one separately to suggest that waiting a little bit before having that first cup of coffee in the morning is a good idea," explains Lung Health Institute wellness dietitian Amanda Maucere, RD. "When we first wake up, cortisol is at peak levels which is part of what signals us through our circadian rhythm to wake up in the first place. Caffeine in coffee is also known to increase cortisol. Although helpful for 'waking up,' elevated levels of cortisol are also found in times of stress to be harmful. So, if you combine an already elevated cortisol with an additional spike from coffee, you could create an unnecessary stress response in the body. This response would be mitigated by waiting an hour or so before enjoying your morning cup of joe."

The benefits of drinking coffee, according to a dietitian:

The best time to drink coffee is after 9:30 a.m., when cortisol levels are lower. That way, you'll get the focus you're looking for without the jitters or anxiety. The one exception, Maucere says, is if you wake up later than 9:30 a.m. regularly. "The circadian rhythm has been shown to adjust to meet our daily habits," she explains. "A good example of this would be the night shift worker who has their cortisol elevated in the evenings when they need to wake up.  So, if you habitually wake up later in the morning, your circadian rhythm has likely adjusted some to accommodate this time.  Therefore, assume your cortisol levels are at their peak whenever you wake up and wait before running for your coffee."

If the idea of waiting until after 9:30 a.m. to enjoy your cup of coffee sounds unbearable, you could consider adjusting your brewing method so that the effects of the caffeine aren't as strong. Cold brew and AeroPress methods both lead to less caffeine intake than Turkish coffee or pour over techniques. Or, hey, there's always decaf. (Joking!)

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