Why the First Thing You Drink in the Morning Absolutely Shouldn’t Be Coffee

Photo: Stocksy/Lauren Lee
It's Monday morning, barely light outside, and you're just not ready start your week. After sleeping in all weekend, waking up early with a clear mind and can-do attitude feels impossible, and the only hope of whipping your drowsy mind into business mode is the sweet smell of coffee.

At first sip, you feel alive. Sound familiar? Same, every week (and if I'm being honest, basically every day of every week). And that's why when I recently learned that drinking coffee first thing in the morning when I wake up is actually not a habit pros recommend, I nearly cried into my mug.

So, is it good to drink coffee in the morning? Well, truth is, it's up for debate. Some research indicates that drinking coffee first thing in the morning may not be all that it was once cut out to be. In fact, some studies suggest that drinking coffee on an empty stomach can potentially cause adverse effects (hi, reflux) or having it before a cup of water has touched your lips can deeply impact your hydration levels.

Experts In This Article

To get to the bottom of it, we're delving into a few reasons why drinking coffee in the morning likely shouldn't be the first thing you get in your system. We can do it, fam.

3 reasons why you shouldn't drink coffee first thing in the morning

1. It can cause an upset stomach

Due to the high acid content in found in most coffees (most have a pH level between 4.85 to 5.13, which is considered rather acidic), you may want to avoid sipping on coffee before breakfast or on an empty stomach. Instead, dietitians suggest enjoying a cup of coffee along with food to help cushion the potential impact on your digestion.

That said, coffee-induced stomach aches don't happen to everyone. (Thank god.) “Listen to your body, because everyone's sensitivity to caffeine and acid is different. If you notice drinking coffee on an empty stomach gives you indigestion, wait until you eat to drink your coffee and see how you feel,” registered dietitian Marisa Silver, MS, RDN, of Vivrant Nutrition says.

In other words, solely having coffee for breakfast is definitely not the right idea. Whether coffee upsets your stomach or not, a hearty breakfast filled with adequate amounts of protein is the perfect (and dietitian-recommended) meal to enjoy alongside your usual latte.

2. It can be extremely dehydrating

Another reason why you may want to avoid drinking coffee first thing in the morning is that it can have extremely dehydrating effects. In fact, sleep expert and clinical psychologist Michael Breus, PhD recommends leaving a cup of water—not a coffee mug—right on your nightstand for when you wake up.

The reason for this isn't just because water is so good for you and blah, blah, blah or because coffee can be irritating to the stomach, but because sleep in itself is a "dehydrative event." So when we wake up, water, and only water, is the replenishing beverage we need more of stat. Not a cup of joe.

"We lose almost a full liter of water every single night, so we wake up dehydrated. Unfortunately lots of people like to grab a cup of coffee as the first liquid that passes over their lips." —Michael Breus, PhD

So, exactly how much hydration is lost while we snooze? Spoiler: It's significant. "We lose almost a full liter of water every single night, so we wake up dehydrated," Dr. Breus said during the event. "Unfortunately lots of people like to grab a cup of coffee as the first liquid that passes over their lips."

Remember that caffeine is a diuretic, meaning it makes you want to urinate. "So, not a good idea to do that—we want water to hydrate first." And keep in mind that hydration only gets even more imperative as we age.

3. It can cause cortisol levels to rise

Drinking caffeinated coffee tends to raise cortisol levels, which is associated with making you feel more alert and awake (yay!) but also making you stressed and more anxious (boo!).

Choosing a decaf coffee is always a good option as far as healthy morning drinks that help mitigate drastic cortisol fluctuations go. However, a little patience will also do—meaning that waiting a few hours before sipping coffee in the morning will likely do the trick (and not disrupt your cortisol levels as much).

What's more, as registered dietitian Amy Gorin, RDN points out, you won’t even get the full alertness benefits of coffee if you sip it first thing in the morning. That's because, technically speaking, your cortisol levels are usually highest as soon as you get up due to the cortisol awakening response1, an immediate rise in cortisol right after sleeping. (For context, levels peak around 30 minutes after you wake up.)

"When you first wake up, it’s a time you’re getting over feeling groggy and going through your morning routine," Gorin says. "You don’t necessarily need a caffeine buzz to brush your teeth." What's more, cortisol levels will continue to level out during the day and drop, which may be a better time to tap into your coffee reserves.

What should I drink first thing in the morning?

All of this being true, you can rest assured that you don't need to abandon your morning coffee altogether (especially if you've got brain fog from seasonal allergies—coffee can help with allergy symptoms). Rather, order of operations is what matters here. In other words, the important things to do before drinking coffee include—you guessed it—a big ol' glass of H2O, among a few others.

So, how much water are we talking? Dr. Breus recommends drinking roughly 20 to 30 ounces of water before you drink any other liquid, preferably room temperature. And if you find plain water objectively boring and unpalatable, you do have the doctor's approval to dress it up a little. He signs off on drinking ye old lemon water, for an added boost of citrus flavor. After: Commence the coffee drinking.

Why waiting to drink your morning coffee is worth it

Coffee in the morning can have some potentially adverse effects on the body—dehydration, upset stomach, and cortisol level increases, to name a few. However, we know now that this certainly doesn't mean you should cut your daily cuppa out of your morning routine cold turkey.

Implementing a few modifications and adjusting the way in which you drink coffee in the morning to make enjoying this often-necessary drink more than doable:

  • Eating something beforehand if caffeine or coffee tends to wreak havoc on your digestion
  • Rehydrating with lots of water after sleeping
  • Waiting for your body's cortisol to level out naturally before you get brewing

A dietitian shares the benefits of drinking coffee:

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Elder, Greg J et al. “The cortisol awakening response–applications and implications for sleep medicine.” Sleep medicine reviews vol. 18,3 (2014): 215-24. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2013.05.001
  2. Rao, Niny Z, and Megan Fuller. “Acidity and Antioxidant Activity of Cold Brew Coffee.” Scientific reports vol. 8,1 16030. 30 Oct. 2018, doi:10.1038/s41598-018-34392-w

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