The New Habit Challenge: Drink Your Coffee When Science Tells You To

Science says we are drinking coffee at the wrong time. In honor of Coffee Week we're challenging ourselves (and you) to change our habits.

I feel like my day hasn't begun until I’ve consumed a minimum 8 oz. of pure, concentrated heaven: Coffee.

And I'm not alone. Sixty percent of American coffee drinkers claim they need coffee to start their day.

Which is why I’m sad to say that scientists disagree. No, really.

Our circadian clocks are an internal, biological, 24-hour hormonal cycle that regulate how sleepy or alert we feel throughout the day. Among other things they control our cortisol production, a hormone that naturally makes us feel more awake.

If we consume coffee, or any caffeine for that matter, during times of peak cortisol production, scientists say that the effect of the caffeine will not only be greatly diminished during that time, but our bodies will also build up a tolerance to the effects of caffeine. That means less buzz for you even when you’re drinking coffee at the right time.

So when are the optimal times for your daily dose?

For people who wake up between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., cortisol levels rise during the early morning hours and begin to drop off around 9:30 a.m. Levels rise and fall again around noon and 5:30 p.m.

This means the optimal times for consuming caffeine fall somewhere around 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

What about those of you who wake up insanely early? According to the research, "Although the release of cortisol is mostly controlled by sunlight, levels of cortisol increase by about 50% upon awakening." So even if you get up a 5 a.m. you aren't off the hook completely. Science says you still don't need your first cup of coffee until at least an hour after you get up.

For the next week, I plan to put this theory to the test, and I hope you'll join me.

To be honest, just thinking about this challenge is giving me a headache, but I will persevere for science! And since misery loves company, other editors at Fast Company have agreed to join me.

Challenge yourself to limit your caffeine intake to the prescribed time slots next week and tell us what you loved and hated about it, if it worked or totally bombed, and we may feature your response in an upcoming Fast Company story. Responses must be submitted to habits@fastcompany.com by end of day Thursday, August 21, 2014.

Stay tuned next week as Fast Company celebrates all things coffee in our first ever Coffee Week.

Keep up with #coffeeweek at Fast Company

[Image: Flickr user nicolethewholigan]

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26 Comments

  • mariatulum09

    Hi, I am not sure if I agree with this. For more than 20 years, I drink 10 ounces of water upon waking. I am an early riser, & even before making the bed,or being fully awake; I gulp down 10 ouces of water. Then, after doing quick chores, & starting my computer, I fix my first cup of coffee. The water I drink, when first waking, has 20-30 minutes, to go through my system, before I have that first cup. I also live in a sun environment of Mexico(unless it is raining of course), I walk my 2 dogs, after the water, & after my first cup. I also have no problems. The one thing mentioned in the article that I may use; is to wait a full hour, after my morning water, to have my first cup.

  • Braden Glett

    I recently stopped drinking all caffeine, and was amazed to discover how much better I now sleep, how much better I feel, and how much less anxiety I have. And I used to say "caffeine doesn't affect me!"

  • It'd be nice to have more information about how much coffee will we be allowed to drink during this challenge. I drink coffee almost all day long, but mostly during the periods you mentioned (9-11 AM) - (1-5PM) but I'm always wondering how much coffee is really healthy to be putting inside my system...how about that?

  • Regardless of when you consume coffee, the fact remains caffeine is a safe ingredient. Scientific research has repeatedly reaffirmed this point, and so has centuries of safe consumption of caffeine in foods and beverages. Consumers can continue to enjoy caffeinated products, and have every confidence in their safety. -American Beverage Association

  • From your own website, "The American Beverage Association (ABA) represents the non-alcoholic, refreshment beverage industry"; aka "we have vested interest in high consumption (profits) of coffee (notice how people are merely customers in the last sentence?). Scientific research has also repeatedly reaffirmed that the human body operates just fine, and to some degrees better, without caffeine. Appealing to people with the argument "centuries of safe consumption of caffeine in foods and beverages" is ridiculous as well; The existence of historical use does not inherently provide value to that practice. Finally, "customers" can continue to enjoy caffeinated products as they always have, at their own damn will.

    Stop plugging your organization. This article clearly does not advocate a reduction of caffeine, but rather a smarter use of it. Go kick rocks.

  • Eija Niskanen

    So the girl in the photo, instead of having a morning coffee, is having a morning smoothie, and will have her coffee later?

  • I actually do drink my caffeine on this schedule! I don't have a cup of coffee until I get to around 10 AM. I also eat a late lunch, and will occasionally have some black tea after my lunch, usually around 2:30. And I didn't even need science to tell me to do it.

  • jdrobison

    It might inhibit maximum coritisol production but it definitely keeps the headache at bay. For caffeine-addicted people like me, any longer than 2 hours after waking (and I wake up at 5), and it's a miserable headache that I can't shake even after finally getting a cup. Hopefully that's not the case for you and you can conduct your experiment without the withdrawal symptoms.

  • nunya_h

    ok, so what do you do if you wake up at 5 am to work out? Research shows that having coffee before a workout gives you the maximum benefit of your workout. I definitely feel like I get a better workout when I drink my coffee beforehand. Is it all in my head?

  • Chantal Vaillancourt

    I drink one before my work out at 6, and then have another at 9:00. Does that work? Or does the first coffee cancel the second???

  • Anaé Monta

    In fact , it's just the coffee break in the morning and then after meal coffee . It isn't unusual time

  • claris

    Ha ha okay no. I'd like to be alert enough to drive to work, thanks. (Maybe it doesn't apply to people with DSPD.)

  • Simon Hampson

    I get up around 5am most days and I like to wait until around 9.30-10.30am for a coffee. However, I do gym first thing and I wonder how that affects things?

  • Devon Nullz

    What of those of us who enjoy coffee -- rather than use it as a chemical crutch? Because if it's the latter, you're doing it wrong.

    Next are you going to let some clown in a scientific journal tell us when we should enjoy having sex or enjoy drinking a bottle of wine?

    Next...