Coffee has given all of us unrealistic expectations of productivity!
It is a dreaded Monday morning, and you constantly think that it was Friday just 5 minutes ago! But now that you know it is 8 o’clock on a Monday morning, you now wish that your coffee be strong and your Monday be short! You had a drunken late night and you have a 9am meeting today.
Coffee! You need coffee, a dark, strong coffee!
You drag yourself out of bed. Grind those perfectly roasted beans. The aroma of those holy beans, as it wafts up, makes you grin and wakes you up just a little bit with anticipation. You now boil your water, pour it through the coffee filter, prepare the coffee just the way you love it. Coffee essence, milk and sugar, half-and-half. Whatever. It’s all good. It’s coffee after all! The second most traded commodity on Earth (after oil).
From this we know that having a perfectly brewed cup of morning coffee is a tradition handed down from generation to generation, embedded into our psyches maybe from the moment some cave person discovered that a beverage could be made from burnt beans.
I am sure that this magical discovery might have happened in the morning! (lame joke I know) Modern science has a way of looking at traditions and often turning them upside down. It turns out that we have had it all wrong. Early morning is actually the worst time to drink coffee! Surprised!
Let us all educate ourselves, get some back up and examine the science of why we get tired at first place. When we wake up and as we go about our daily activities, a chemical called adenosine slowly accumulates in the brain. As the chemical builds up throughout the day it keeps on binding to receptors in the brain and which actually slows down and calms all the activities done by the brain. This is the only reason why we feel tired as the day goes on, and why we then reach for that cup of perfectly brewed coffee to perk us up when we can’t just take a nap.
Caffeine, as it turns out, is a drug that is similar in chemical shape to adenosine. As we consume it, the caffeine molecules reach the brain and compete and bind with the same receptors in the brain that adenosine would normally bind to. Adenosine is left out in the cold, so to speak, and since caffeine does not slow down brain activity, the result is that we no longer feel tired. That simple!
The caffeine intake you do while you are tired works great…for a while.
But eventually, as the body is bound to do, the brain figures out what is happening, how you are cheating on it and as a repulsive action begins to generate more receptors the adenosine that can bind to (the body wants to sleep, after all).
So in this situation when you want to get up and get some work done, you then need to consume an even higher volume of coffee. That’s one of the reasons why the longer we drink coffee, the more coffee we require to feel the buzz we grew to love in the first place.
So now that we understand why we get that coffee buzz, when is the best time to intake that buzz?
The brain also produces a hormone called cortisol, the so-called stress hormone, which is a chemical we produce during the fight-or-flight response. That is, when we are under stress, or in danger, cortisol is produced to make us feel alert, zoned in, ready for action. But our bodies also produce cortisol throughout the day. The release of cortisol is regulated by the body’s circadian rhythm, our internal biological clock, and it turns out that the peak time for cortisol levels is between 8am and 9am. In other words, the very time you are drinking coffee to wake yourself up, the body is already releasing cortisol to do the same thing. And no, the caffeine does not offer additional wakefulness. In fact, cortisol actually diminishes the ability of caffeine to wake you up, and it also builds up the body’s tolerance for it, another reason it becomes necessary to drink more and more coffee to lesser and lesser effect.
Apart from the morning hours, other peak times for cortisol production is 12-1pm and 5:30-6:30pm (these are the only time we usually have that cup of holly potion). So in order to maximize our alertness throughout the day, while also not interfering with our bodies’ natural alertness mechanisms, we should be drinking coffee outside of these peak time periods. Even if you should wake up really early, the body, guided by the circadian rhythm, still increases its cortisol level about 50%. Scientists advise we wait about an hour, regardless of when we wake up, before we consume our cup o’ joe.