The best time for a ‘coffee break’ is not first thing in the morning

A hand holds a cup under a commercial coffee machine
 By USU External Affairs

Wondering where you can get a free cup of joe on National Coffee Day? Instead, you might want to consider what time of day is best to drink that caffeinated beverage – if you want to get the most out of it – and that might not be first thing in the morning. One USU grad has argued it’s better to hold off a few hours in the morning to maximize the effects of caffeine.

Coffee, or any caffeinated beverage, is most effective if consumed between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m., according to USU Neuroscience graduate Steven Miller. While studying for his PhD at the University in 2013, the neuroscientist looked at research studies about the biological rhythms and drug action – also known as “chronopharmacology.” He found that if you’re drinking caffeine at a time when the cortisol concentrations in your blood are already at their peak – first thing in the morning – you probably should not be drinking it then.

a group takes a coffee break at what seems to be some sort of lecture event
ORLANDO, Fla. (June 12, 2017) Guests prepare coffee during a break at a 2017 Navy SAPR Training Seminar. (Image credit: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Michael Lopez)

Cortisol production is strongly related to your level of alertness, usually peaking for your 24-hour biological rhythm between 8 and 9 a.m., so for those drinking coffee around that time, when cortisol levels are naturally high, you might find yourself needing to make your coffee even stronger to get a desirable effect.

Cortisol also controls the body clock and causes people to feel wide awake. The body’s levels of this hormone are usually high just after you wake up, but then start to fall about an hour afterwards. Miller suggested that when the cortisol level drops you can get the most out of your caffeine, typically later in the morning.  This is the best time to get a boost, he reports, because it encourages cortisol production.

a man in military uniform pours coffee into a cup held by a man in civilian attire
U.S. Air Force Col. Robert Epstein, Train, Advise, Assist Command – Air (TAAC-Air) director of staff, serves coffee at a café in a Forward Operating Base Kabul, Afghanistan. (Image credit: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Sandra Welch)

Miller has also noted that cortisol levels can vary from person to person, so the best time of day to drink coffee could differ from person to person. Those who get up early may find their cortisol levels drop earlier than those who get up late, for example.   Cortisol levels can also help turn energy into sugar which are used by cells in the body, and that can also play a role in controlling the body’s clock.

So before filling up your travel mug or venturing to the nearest café as part of your daily ritual, try to see if holding off will help you get the most out of your caffeine.