Healthy Drinks

Here’s How Long It Actually Takes for the Caffeine in That Cup of Coffee To Kick In—And How To Make It Hit Faster

Photo: Stocksy/Elenka Kharichka
If you ask me, there are two types of people in this world: those who don’t drink coffee, and those who can’t possibly imagine a life without it. (Full disclosure: I’m 110 percent in the latter camp.) Now, if the promise of coffee is a—or the—motivating force to get you out of bed each morning, or gives you the power to overcome an afternoon slump, you might wonder if there’s a way to make the caffeine in that cup of joe hit harder, better, faster, and stronger.

According to Brooklyn–based dietitian Maddie Pasquariello, MS, RD, there are actually several ways to get a more potent caffeine rush and increased energy from your coffee intake. Keep reading to see what it all entails.

How long does it take for caffeine to kick in?

Before we dive into how to amplify the caffeine hit from your cup of coffee, let’s first break down how long caffeine typically takes to kick in. “It is generally understood that caffeine takes about 45 minutes to an hour to be fully absorbed into our systems,” Pasquariello says, “but concentrations do increase significantly after 20 minutes.” She then notes that a few studies show that as little as 15 to 20 minutes may be the sweet spot at which “equilibrium” (read: peak caffeine serum levels) is achieved. Perhaps you’ve heard that it’s ideal to drink a cup of coffee before taking a power nap; that’s where this range comes into play.

Pasquariello adds that results from such research can be swayed by any number of factors including sample size and other considerations. With that in mind, she says that the 30 minute mark, give or take, after finishing your cup is a decent marker to know when caffeine levels have reached their peak.

4 ways to make coffee (and its caffeine content) kick in faster

1. Drink coffee on an empty stomach

If you’re on a mission to get a stronger hit of caffeine without going beyond your usual intake, this is one of the most effective methods. “If your body responds well to caffeine and you want to feel its effects more strongly, you'd want to drink it on an empty stomach and without food,” Pasquariello says. Of course, we’re certainly not endorsing skipping meals for the sake of more energy or for any other reason...ever. But if you’re usually not hungry upon waking or you like to wait until you sit down at your desk to eat breakfast, Pasquariello says that there shouldn't be much of a downside to drinking a cup or so on an empty stomach. “However, it's usually best to avoid drinking several cups in a row before you eat, as this can induce negative effects,” she adds.

2. Take your coffee black

In addition to enjoying your coffee without pairing it with food, you may also want to mix up your standard caffeinated concoctions so it’s pure coffee and water only. “You could opt for coffee that isn't diluted with milk—i.e., swapping a latte or cappuccino for black coffee or espresso,” Pasquariello says.

3. Opt for stronger brews

Of course, you can also choose to switch up your coffee shop order or standard type of java you usually make at home. For instance, since cold brew coffee is typically brewed more strongly than, say, drip coffee or espresso, opting for a large glass of it will allow you to enjoy a greater hit of caffeine than you’d get from less robust alternatives.

4. Drink coffee before taking a power nap

As noted above, if you sip on your brew of choice before taking a 15 to 20 minute power nap, there’s a solid chance you’ll feel more energized and alert upon waking than if you opt for one option over the other. While you might not be able to apply this hack daily, keep it in your energy-boosting toolkit for whenever the opportunity presents itself.

A few caveats

Pasquariello warns that the tactics shared above aren’t generally advised for everyone—particularly those who don’t handle caffeine well, tend to experience undesired side effects from coffee intake, or have extenuating health conditions. “You may feel more jittery, anxious, or extra caffeinated if you drink caffeine on an empty stomach,” she cautions. “This is because food will delay caffeine's absorption into the bloodstream, thus making the caffeine ‘hit’ you quicker.” While some of us are seeking a more potent caffeine kick, those who experience adverse effects from the stimulant will want to pair coffee with a meal or snack, if not limit intake or avoid it outright.

In addition, it’s worth being mindful of your cortisol levels in regards to time of day and caffeine’s impact on them. “Consuming caffeine increases levels of the stress hormone, and when you first wake up—or about 30 minutes after waking—cortisol levels are generally at their peak,” she explains. With that said, she explains that it may be best to wait until a bit later in the morning to start consuming caffeine—all the while making sure you don’t sip up too late in the day, which can keep you wired when it’s time to hit the hay later at night.

Next, while it makes sense that you’d reach for extra coffee following a poor night’s rest, you’ll want to be a bit more careful not to overdo it. “If you had a restless night of sleep or experience insomnia, research suggests that drinking caffeine can increase blood pressure and heart rate, as well as anxiety and restlessness,” Pasquariello says. Moreover, if you experience any of these conditions regardless of how well you sleep, it’s worth being more cautious of caffeine’s potential to exacerbate symptoms.

Last but not least, if you experience GI distress, maxing out your coffee and caffeine intake may do more harm than good. “Be wary if you experience IBS or leaky gut, as caffeine—both with food and on its own—can be severely aggravating, especially in excess,” Pasquariello notes.

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