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.

The New Habit Challenge: Drink Your Coffee When Science Tells You To
[Image: Flickr user nicolethewholigan]

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 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.


About the author

Rachel Gillett is a former editorial assistant for’s Leadership section. Her work has been featured on,, and elsewhere.