Coffee is the most popular drink in the world. Many people rely on it for caffeine to give them an energy boost throughout the day.
However, while we would never argue that there is a wrong way to enjoy coffee, if you want to get the best results from your caffeine hit, there is a righter way to drink it. It all comes down to our circadian rhythm, a natural and very individual energy cycle that exists inside all our bodies that tells us when to wake up and go to sleep.
Throughout the day, your brain releases cortisol in line with your circadian rhythm which makes you feel more alert, and then you experience sleepiness when levels dip - like the effects of caffeine.
The optimum time to enjoy a coffee to get the maximum benefits is a bit of a balancing act between caffeine and your circadian rhythm. Get it right and you’ll feel energised when you need it most; get it wrong and you may end up enduring energy slumps or sleepless nights.
Here’s what to do:
Coffee in the morning
Many people reach for a cup of coffee as soon as they roll out of bed. However, research has found that drinking coffee could decrease its energising effects because of a hormone called cortisol.
Cortisol, otherwise known as the ‘stress hormone’ is secreted when you feel stressed. It’s also at its peak levels after you wake up to make you feel more alert. It’s at its highest 30-45 minutes after you wake then slowly declines throughout the day.
Drinking a caffeinated cup of coffee can increase your cortisol levels which could harm your health over time (although there are no studies on this yet). Your body could also develop a tolerance to caffeine, meaning you’ll need more to get the same levels of wakefulness in the future.
So, instead of coffee first thing, go down the hydration route to feel more awake with a big glass of water. Or, if you crave that coffee taste sensation first thing after waking, opt for our decaf coffee, The Dreamer and follow up with a caffeinated brew later.
Coffee for a mid-morning pick me up
To maximise the energising effects of coffee, the best time to drink it is around mid to late morning when your cortisol levels are much lower and you’ve settled into the day.
For example, if you’ve woken up at 6:30 am, the optimum time is between 9:30 and 11:30 am. Your energy levels will feel a lot smoother; you’ll be in a better mood and you’re less likely to get the caffeine jitters.
However, you needn’t hold out ‘til lunch for your first cup of coffee, and in fact this could be detrimental as your cortisol levels will then be high again reducing the caffeine’s effectiveness and increasing the afternoon slump later in the day!
This isn’t to say don’t enjoy coffee come midday - just make sure you’ve already enjoyed one mid-morning to reduce the shock to your body!
Coffee before a workout
Coffee is well-known for its ability to boost energy and alertness in the brain. This also makes it a great exercise performance enhancer.
Caffeine delays exercise fatigue and improves muscle strength while you work out. And you don’t need to take expensive caffeine supplements to get the full effect. Simply have a cup of coffee before you start your exercise routine!
To get the maximum benefit from the caffeine, drink your coffee at least 30 to 60 minutes before your workout. This is the time it takes caffeine levels to peak in your system.
The recommended dose for exercise performance is between 1.4–2.7 mg per pound of body weight. So, that’s about 20-40g of caffeine for a person weighing 150 pounds. In a twist of fate, our individually portioned ground coffee sachets contain precisely this amount!
Coffee for a mid-afternoon slump
As your lunchtime cortisol levels decrease and adenosine levels increase, you might find yourself hitting a mid-afternoon slump.
To counteract the effects, make sure you drink plenty of water as dehydration can cause sleepiness. Eat a non-sugary snack for energy, stretch, do some light exercise, take a break from screens and get some sunlight.
You can also have a cup of coffee to boost those energy levels as long as it’s not too late in the day when it can affect your ability to sleep later on. You can also do a coffee nap - which leads us on to our next point!
Coffee before a nap
New research has found that a ‘coffee nap’ could help maximise your energy levels. Caffeine pushes adenosine out of the way, but you don’t notice this when you’re sleeping. Instead, you wake up more refreshed and energised.
However, you must do it right for it to be effective. Firstly, don’t down a cuppa too late in the day. You need a minimum of 6 hours between your last cup of caffeinated coffee (*see below) and bedtime if you want to get a good night’s sleep.
Secondly, you need to drink your coffee and then lie down for some shut eye right away. The caffeine starts to kick in about 20-30 minutes after you drink it. Once the caffeine kicks in, you’ll be too awake to nap.
And lastly? Don’t forget to set an alarm! You only really want to nap for 20 minutes. Any longer and you might end up sinking into a slow wave sleep pattern which is harder to wake up from and will only make you feel groggy when you do.
Once you awake from your coffee nap, go outside and take a five-minute walk to get your endorphins flowing alongside the caffeine in your system and maximise that energy!
Coffee after dinner
When it’s time for bed, a chemical called adenosine is secreted to initiate sleep. Coffee is often villainised for being a culprit of sleep deprivation because science shows that caffeine blocks your brain from receiving adenosine to initiate sleep. But decaffeinated coffee has no such effect! And psychologically, an after-dinner espresso can be a lovely and relaxing way to end the day.
Surely a small cup of coffee won’t keep you awake. Right? Well, it does depend to some extent on your individual biology and whether you’re a faster or slower coffee metaboliser - some people can absolutely enjoy a coffee last thing at night and still catch forty winks; you know your body best - but it’s important to note that the stimulating effects of caffeine could stay in your system for up to 3-5 hours with at least half the amount of caffeine remaining for a further 5-10 hours depending on your tolerance levels.
As a rule of thumb, avoid drinking caffeinated coffee a minimum of 6 hours before bed to minimise sleep disruption and opt instead for a decaf blend.
Coffee is a powerful performance, energy and - if we may say so ourselves - life enhancer, but it can work against you if you don’t pay attention to both the quality of your coffee and when you're drinking it. The best way to enjoy the innumerable benefits of coffee is to buy the best beans you can and to indulge in a way that is in harmony with your biology and individual circadian rhythm.