What is the best time to drink coffee?

Without my morning coffee, I don’t leave the house

Anyone

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The idea of having a coffee as soon as you get out of bed, to wake you up with a jolt, is widespread. And of course it is also very common to have not one, but several cups of coffee during the day.

When we do this, we may have wondered at some point what is the best time to have a cup of coffee. Because maybe some days it has more effect than others, or sometimes we drink the coffee and still feel half drowsy… (and then we make the situation worse by drinking a second cup almost consecutively).

Why doesn’t our body always respond in the same way to that cup of coffee that you drink every day? Well, to understand the best time to drink coffee, we first need to understand some basic notions and concepts related to neuroscience.

Don’t panic… we’re going to explain it to you in simple words so you can understand. Pay attention:

The best time to drink coffee (according to neuroscience)

In neuroscience, there are two concepts that will be very useful when it comes to knowing the best time of day to drink coffee: cortisol and the phases of stress.

Cortisol is a hormone. Not just any hormone, but the one in charge of maintaining a constant and adequate level of glucose in our blood… so that everything else works properly. It is controlled by the hypothalamus, and is almost always secreted by our body in stressful situations, to help us cope better. It is no coincidence that it is known as the “stress neuron”.

Moreover, there are generally three phases of stress: the initial or alert phase, the resistance phase, and the final phase, also known as relaxation. What we should know at this point is that cortisol is mainly generated in the second phase: the resistance phase.

Now that we are clear on this, it is time to go a little deeper. Cortisol is not only produced by our body in stressful situations. We also secrete cortisol naturally and regularly throughout the day, for reasons of circadian rhythms. In other words: our body’s biological clock. This is what determines the best time to drink coffee.

What does this mean? Well, there are times of the day when our body feels more tired, or more awake, and generates peaks of the hormone cortisol accordingly, to compensate for these states.

With these premises, the conclusion is immediate: you don’t need to drink coffee when your body generates cortisol naturally. Its effect is cancelled out. Your body is already activated by cortisol, so… it is best to “save” that cup of coffee for when your body feels really tired and cannot generate cortisol.

  • The best time of day to drink coffee is when your body is in a cortisol deficit.
  • The worst time to drink coffee is when your body generates cortisol spikes (because coffee won’t work).

When are these times? Well, it depends on your schedule. Here you will have to do some calculations and make an effort to get to know your body a bit better to know how it works and to recognise the best time to drink your cup of coffee, if you want it to really activate you.

As a reference, you can take the following values:

A person who goes to sleep at 0:00 at night and wakes up at 8:00 in the morning (8 hours of sleep), generates cortisol peaks around 10 am, 1 or 2 am – before eating – and around 7 pm.

In other words: to benefit from its “activating” effect, the best times to drink coffee for this person would be the periods between these hours: between 10:00 and 13:00 (i.e. mid-morning), and between 14:00 and 18:00 (i.e. after lunch).

Surprised? Yes, perhaps these times do not coincide with what you thought your body needs to activate with coffee, or with what you are used to consuming it… but circadian rhythms are in many cases a great unknown for all of us.

Now you just need to do some simple maths to find out when the best time to drink coffee is for it to have a real effect.