The Best Time to Drink Coffee Is Later Than You Think

How long after waking up should you drink coffee? We spill the beans!

Published August 16, 2023
woman sitting in bed drinking coffee

Did you know that there is a best time to drink coffee — and it isn't first thing in the morning? It turns out that if you really want to accelerate your day, you need to enjoy your cup of joe during a specific window of time. It is better latte than never to learn this information!

If you want to know more about waiting to drink coffee in the morning, we're serving up the details, plus giving you some real-life tips from our own experience.

The Connection Between Cortisol and Caffeine

The reason why you should be waiting to drink coffee in the morning is all related to cortisol. This is the stress hormone that is responsible for helping us wake up each day.

Research shows that approximately one hour before you awaken, your cortisol levels begin to rise. They peak in the first hour after you wake, typically rising from 10 to 20 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL) and then drop back to 10 mcg/dL in the second and third hour. After this, they slowly drop throughout the remainder of your day. 

Caffeine Intensifies the Effects of Cortisol, at Certain Times

How does this relate to your morning cup of joe? According to a study on caffeine and cortisol levels: "Caffeine increases cortisol secretion in people at rest or undergoing mental stress." What this means is that adding coffee to your system when your cortisol levels are high will have less of an effect than if you were to add it when your body's cortisol levels are low.

Thus, take advantage of your natural energy source before adding in an artificial one. This can allow you to have more energy for a longer span of time.  

What Is the Best Time to Drink Coffee?

Someone hands holding a mug of black coffee before drinking.

Since your cortisol levels are highest in the first three hours of your day, it's best to drink your coffee right after this window closes. For example, if you wake at 6:00 a.m, your ideal coffee drinking time would be between 9:00 a.m and 11:00 a.m. when your cortisol levels are shown to dip below 10 mcg/dL. 

In other words, wait about three hours after you wake up to drink your cup of joe to feel the biggest caffeine kick!

Need to Know

The same study also found that after a period of caffeine abstinence, drinking caffeine in this window produced "a robust increase in cortisol across the test day." This means that if you have an important project or a busy day coming up that will require an extra bit of energy, it might be worth skipping your brew during the days leading up to the big event!

Regular Coffee Drinkers May Not Benefit as Much in the Morning

For those folks who religiously rise and grind every day, sadly, you may not benefit as much from delaying your daily caffeination. However, if you engage in a second, early afternoon brew, you will see a cortisol increase that can last for up to six hours. For the participants in the caffeine and cortisol study, it was determined that this was best done at 1:00 p.m. so that cortisol levels could properly drop to allow for regular sleep.

Need to Know

If you really need a later afternoon fix, just try to make sure that it is at least six hours before your bedtime (though seven is probably better). Researchers have found that even drinking caffeine six hours prior to your sleep window can bring at least an hour of sleep disruption. Thus, if you head to bed at 11:00 p.m., your last drink containing caffeine should ideally be no later than 4:00 p.m. 

Real-Life Tips for Changing Up Your Caffeine Routine

How does the science behind this translate to real life? We talked to staff writer Sydney Stephens, who tried cutting back on caffeine and delaying her morning coffee as her New Year's resolution this year, for her insight and tips:

"Giving up my morning coffee seemed truly impossible, especially as a sleep-deprived mom to a toddler. I couldn't imagine any other way of starting my day than stumbling to the kitchen for that first sweet sip of caffeine. But I was starting to notice that the early morning caffeine fix wasn't actually helping my day and was even adding to some negative experiences. With my cortisol levels high, sleep escaping me at night, and my hormones all sorts of wacky, I knew a change was needed.

How I Altered My Coffee Routine

I decided to try cutting back on my coffee intake and pushing back the first cup of the day for a couple of hours. This is how I changed my coffee routine.

  • I stopped brewing entire pots of coffee, knowing I would otherwise be tempted to sip on it all day long. Instead, I opted for brewing one cup at a time.
  • I replaced my morning cup of coffee with a small glass of room-temperature water with a little lemon and a pinch of salt. Having something to sip on as I started the day helped me miss that coffee a little less.
  • I prioritized breakfast in the first hour after waking. I usually choose something protein-rich like eggs and cottage cheese. Fueling my body before caffeine seemed to make the biggest difference in my cortisol levels. 
  • I made my coffee feel special. Rather than treating each cup of coffee as casually as a cup of water, I decided to make them extra enjoyable. I mixed things up with different coffee brands, creamers, and sweeteners, so the experience felt more like a treat rather than a means of survival. 

What I Noticed After Pushing Back My Morning Coffee

The first week of changing my coffee routine was the hardest. But once I settled into my new normal, the routine just made sense. This is what I noticed after six months of no longer drinking coffee upon waking.

  • I was so thirsty when I woke up! That morning cup of room temperature water became even more important than my coffee ever was. I counted this a win though, knowing I needed hydration first thing in the morning showed that my mind and body were starting to change. 
  • My hunger cues came back. After years of waking up anything but hungry, I noticed my morning hunger cues return. The growling stomach I heard each morning became a great reminder of my progress and was another potential signal to me that my hormones and cortisol levels were returning to normal. 
  • I had fewer anxious moments. I knew that cortisol spikes were playing a role in my anxiety some days. Getting those under control helped me feel less stressed and anxious each morning. 
  • My sleeping habits improved some. Cutting back on the caffeine helped me feel more relaxed at the end of the day and able to fall asleep a bit easier.
  • I don't crave coffee throughout the day. I stick to one cup of coffee in the mid-morning after eating, hydrating, and moving my body — and it's only on rare occasions I crave a second coffee in the afternoon. 
  • My sugar and carb cravings decreased as well. While people may have different reactions to sugar, carbs, and caffeine, for me, they were related. My sugar cravings have decreased significantly and I find myself reaching for processed carbs less often as well. 

I'm eight months into this new perspective of morning coffee and I'm so glad I decided to take the leap. It's freeing to no longer feel reliant on coffee, but to simply enjoy it. I'm no longer motivated to get out of bed each morning by my caffeine craving, and that feels good to say."

Need to Know

A study in the Journal of Food Science suggests that caffeine could impact the perception of sweet taste. The result could lead people to crave more sugar — so if you feel like you are craving more sugar and you're drinking more coffee, the caffeine could be the reason. 

How Long After Waking Should I Drink Coffee?

There's no hard and fast rule that you need to drink your coffee three hours after waking, but this can be a nice trick on hectic work days that require a bit of an energy boost.

On these days, drinking water is a great alternative. Why? Dehydration can also make you tired. Interestingly enough, if you are a hot sleeper or sleep with your thermostat set high, you will likely experience some dehydration during the night. Thus, water can be a benefit to add to your morning regimen, no matter what your caffeine habits may be!

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The Best Time to Drink Coffee Is Later Than You Think