Photo by Moyan Brenn

Photo by Moyan Brenn

In the US alone there are an estimated 100 million daily coffee drinkers, each contributing to a booming $18 billion industry. Of these, 68% claim they have their first coffee within the first hour of waking up. As a coffee drinker, I find myself guilty of the same practice, but apparently this isn’t the best time to enjoy your coffee. Why? Because there’s a big chance you’re wasting it, even though you might feel like it’s giving you that big slamming kick to start off the day.

Every person has his up and downs during a day, whether we’re talking about productivity, mood or energy. These swings are caused by the circadian clock – an  internal 24-hour clock  that alters your physiology and behavior by modifying your biological rhythm. The circadian clock is governed by the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that contains a number of small nuclei with a variety of functions. Most importantly, the hypothalamus is responsible for certain metabolic processes and other activities of the autonomic nervous system.

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But how does the hypothalamus knows how to regulate time and thus send signals that affect our biology, like telling us when its to go to sleep for instance? Through interactions with the sun of course. Previously it was shown that there exist connections between the retina and hypothalamus (the retinohypothalamic tract), so direct sensory input, in our case light, influences the body. But you probably already know this, innately – you don’t need to know the science to feel the effects. Ok, but how does this relate to coffee? We’re getting there.

Your circadian clock controls your metabolism function of the time of day, including alertness. Alertness is related to cortisol (the stress hormone). Cortisol blood levels peak between 8 and 9 AM, then again between noon to 1 PM, and between 5:30 to 6:30 PM. So, basically you are already on full alert naturally in the very first hour of the morning and drinking coffee during this time makes consumption inefficient. Instead, the best time of the day to enjoy your coffee would probably between 9:30 AM and 11:30 AM, when your cortisol levels are dropping before the next spike.

Tip via NeuroscienceDC