Many people rely on a morning cup of coffee immediately after the alarm sounds to help launch their day. You may even set the timer to get the pot brewing before you’ve rolled out of bed.
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“People worldwide enjoy their morning coffee,” says registered dietitian Anthony DiMarino, RD, LD. “It’s a common habit, and you may feel unsettled if something disrupts your morning ritual.”
But should you push back the timing of your coffee breaks? Scientifically speaking, that’s still up for debate. Some experts believe it’s better to wait until mid-morning or afternoon to enjoy that first (or second) cup.
But don’t panic! DiMarino says there isn’t necessarily a “best time” to drink coffee.
Drinking coffee in the morning
An 8-ounce cup of coffee contains close to 100 milligrams of caffeine, though that amount varies depending on the type of coffee grounds and how you brew them.
“Because caffeine is a stimulant, drinking coffee first thing in the morning helps you wake up,” DiMarino says. One way caffeine does this is by increasing the amount of cortisol in your body. Let’s dig in.
Coffee, caffeine and cortisol
Cortisol, which is sometimes known as the stress hormone, is the chemical your body releases in response to danger — those fight-or-flight situations. Now, your average morning isn’t typically a dangerous one (even if you’re not a morning person!), but your body still releases cortisol after waking up.
“You naturally release cortisol in the morning to help you become more alert and aware of your surroundings as you wake from your slumber,” DiMarino explains.
Your cortisol levels typically peak between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. and gradually drop throughout the day, reaching their lowest point in the middle of the night while you sleep. In this way, cortisol helps your body maintain its sleep-wake cycle, known as the circadian rhythm.
But the stimulating effects of caffeinated coffee first thing in the morning can rev up your cortisol production. Some people may welcome this extra jolt to their systems, while others may feel more anxious, jittery or irritable.
“Everyone’s sensitivity, or internal response, to caffeine is different,” DiMarino says.
“When your cortisol levels stay elevated, you’re at an increased risk for weight gain, diabetes, heart problems and other health concerns,” he adds.
Drinking coffee at night
Drinking coffee late at night may be unwise, unless you’re working a late shift.
“Caffeine has a half-life of two to 10 hours, depending on your metabolism,” DiMarino says. In other words, it could take as little as two hours or as long as 10 hours for your body to eliminate half the caffeine from one cup of coffee.
For people with a certain “coffee gene,” a late-night cup of coffee isn’t a problem. The CYP1A2 gene helps your body break down and get rid of caffeine — and some people actually have two copies of this gene, which helps them break down caffeine faster than those who have one copy.
If you can down a double shot of espresso at 10 p.m. and sleep soundly afterward, you probably metabolize caffeine quickly.
Determining the best time to drink coffee
Here’s what experts know about the timing of drinking coffee:
- Coffee first thing in the morning increases cortisol levels, potentially making you feel more wired.
- Coffee at night may (or may not, depending on your genes and metabolism) affect your slumber.
So, when’s the best time to have that cuppa?
There’s no scientific evidence that supports a “best time.” But a mid- to late-morning cup between 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. may help you reap the most coffee benefits. That’s when cortisol levels start to dip, and you’ll get the biggest bang from the effect of caffeine.
On the other hand, you may want a cup of joe at 2 p.m. to boost you through the afternoon slump. “Many of us feel sluggish or less productive after lunch,” DiMarino notes. If a power nap isn’t in the cards, a cup of coffee may get you through the rest of your day.
Is there a best time to drink coffee for weight loss?
No, there isn’t — because coffee doesn’t help with weight loss. Despite what you might have seen on TikTok or elsewhere on social media, coffee doesn’t have magical calorie- or fat-burning properties. And the scale won’t budge faster if you add lemon to your coffee.
But coffee can be a good swap for higher-calorie beverages.
“Specialty flavored coffee drinks can have more than 500 calories, depending on the cup size,” DiMarino warns. You can cut those empty calories by switching to reduced- or fat-free milk alternatives or sugar substitutes.
How much coffee is too much?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine per day for adults and less than 200 milligrams of caffeine per day during pregnancy. This includes the caffeine you get in chocolate, tea, sodas, energy drinks and other products.
While Americans are known for overdoing it on sugar and salt, we tend to stay below the recommended caffeine amount. Many of us consume around 135 milligrams of caffeine each day. That’s about 1 1/2 cups of coffee. The time of day you decide to drink those invigorating brews is entirely up to you!