Healthy Sleeping Habits

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

Mary Grace Garis

Photo: Getty Images/Tassii
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.

In a recent Global Wellness Summit Master Class focused on the science of sleep, sleep expert and clinical psychologist Michael Breus, PhD, discussed how a cup of water—not a coffee mug—should be 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, 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.

“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

“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 folks, caffeine is a diuretic, it makes you want to urinate. So, not a good idea to do that—we want water to hydrate.”

Additionally, coffee tends to raise your cortisol levels, which is associated with making you alert and awake (yay!) but also making you stressed and more anxious (boo!). And as Amy Gorin, RDN, points out, you won’t even get the full alertness benefits of coffee first thing in the a.m. That’s because technically speaking, your cortisol levels are usually highest in the morning due to the cortisol awakening response, increasing to a peak of between 38 and 75 percent 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,” says Gorin. “You don’t necessarily need a caffeine buzz to brush your teeth.”

All of this being true, you can rest assured that you don’t need to abandon your morning coffee altogether. Rather, order of operations is what matters here. Dr. Breus recommends drinking roughly 20 to 30 ounces of room-temperature 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 vitamin C. Then, and only then, is it advised to drink your coffee.

So, new routine: 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. Smell that coffee while you hydrate, then a little later on in your morning, grab a cup of joe for a welcome pick-me-up to be hydrated, caffeinated, and ready to conquer your day.

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