Morning, Afternoon, Or Evening, When’s The Best Time To Enjoy Coffee?

12 min read FEB 22, 2023

I love coffee. You love coffee. We all love coffee…any day, all day, any time, all the time.

I mean, that pretty much sums it up, not leaving much more to discuss, right?

Well, like most things in life, it’s unfortunately not that simple.

The fact is, even though we’d love to enjoy a tasty, clean cup of joe just about any time of day, when we drink our beloved coffee matters.

As many of you can likely attest, drinking coffee late at night can disrupt your sleep patterns.

And, some of you may have realized long ago that drinking coffee early in the morning on an empty stomach can have negative repercussions as well.

So, when is the best time to drink coffee?

What happens when you drink coffee first thing in the morning?

Can you really enjoy a cup in the afternoon without hindering sleep?

And, is drinking coffee in the evening completely off limits if you want to optimize your health?

We’ll discuss all of these things and more, as we take a look at what happens when we drink coffee in the morning, afternoon, and evening…

Coffee In The Morning

Do any of these popular coffee meme quotes sound familiar?

“First I drink the coffee, then I do the stuff.”

“A poem for mornings: coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, everyone shut up, coffee.”

“I don’t drink coffee to wake up, I wake up to drink coffee.”

Morning coffee memes are in abundance throughout social media and the internet at large, and certainly we all enjoy getting a good chuckle out of sayings like this. But, the humor we find here is likely due to the relatability of such phrases. Because, for many of us, we truly do reach for our mug the moment our feet hit the floor in the morning.

But, what do the experts say about this practice?

Spoiler alert, if you’re in the “first things first…coffee” club, I should probably insert a don’t harm the messenger warning here.

Sleep scientists have recently weighed in on the notion of drinking coffee first thing in the morning, and frankly, they don’t recommend it.

Sleep expert and clinical psychologist, Michael Breus, at the Global Wellness Summit Master Class, noted the dehydrating effects of sleep, and stressed the vital importance of drinking a glass of water (instead of a cup of coffee) as soon as you awake each morning.

Breus states, “we lose almost a full liter of water every single night,” and caffeine acts as a natural diuretic, meaning it makes your body urinate or expel water. So, reaching for water before a cup of caffeination is crucial for overall health and wellness.

Drinking coffee first thing in the morning on an empty stomach may also contribute to digestive issues as the bitter notes in coffee can stimulate the production of stomach acid in some individuals, typically those sensitive to coffee and/or caffeine.

What’s worse, reaching for a cup of joe immediately as you awake may also increase cortisol levels.

Since cortisol levels are naturally high when you wake up in the morning, consuming coffee, thereby increasing these levels even further, may cause dangerous spikes in this hormone.

So then, when is it okay to drink coffee in the morning?

Some scientists believe waiting an hour after waking to enjoy your morning cup of coffee is sufficient.

However, others disagree, believing cortisol levels alone should dictate when you reach for your morning java.

As cortisol levels regulate blood sugar and metabolism, even influencing brain activity, blood pressure, and immune responses (such as inflammation), many experts believe the best time to reach for your morning cup of coffee is after these levels begin to drop.

And, for most folks, this would be roughly 3 hours after waking.

For example, if you wake up at roughly 6:30 in the morning, sometime between 9:30-11:30 would be the perfect coffee-consuming sweet spot for you.

And, for those gasping in disbelief right now, scientists have confirmed that the energizing effects of cortisol are indeed sufficient for morning alertness and focus, even noting the addition of caffeine throughout the morning hours may actually decrease the natural effects of this hormone.

Still, some experts disagree (again) as some research has indicated that those who drink coffee regularly (first thing in the morning) don’t experience as severe of a caffeine-induced cortisol increase.

So, before you disregard the somewhat disagreeing science here, let’s see what we can take away from all of this:

  • We know sleep is dehydrating. Therefore, if you tend to reach for coffee before water, it is true that your body will thank you for a swap first thing in the morning. So, plan to enjoy a refreshing glass of water while you brew your precious, delicious, healthy cup of joe.
  • And, if you can fathom it, seek to push back your morning mug time even more, as you may find that waiting a few hours after you awake before enjoying your first cup of joe gives you natural (cortisol-induced) energy, allowing you to savor your coffee for its aromas, flavors, and health benefits as opposed to requiring 2-3 cups for survival alone.
  • If you do decide to begin the practice of waiting until roughly 9:30-11:30 to enjoy your first morning brew, remember that any change in routine may require an adjustment period. If your body has relied on coffee for energy each morning, even producing less cortisol on its own in the a.m. after some time, it may need time to get back into a natural energy production process.

Coffee In the Afternoon

You’ve had a productive morning.

You’ve enjoyed a nice lunch.

And now, whether you’ve just gotten the kids down for a nap, you’ve hunkered down at your desk to tackle the stack of work in front of you, or you’re planning to transplant the roses in your backyard, where does coffee best fit into your afternoon schedule?

Morning coffee consumption practices centered around both dehydration and cortisol levels, and the latter can dictate your afternoon coffee enjoyment as well.

As cortisol levels peak first thing in the morning followed by a mid morning dip, this cycle repeats itself in the afternoon.

Upon waking, this is your body’s biggest cortisol spike, but another (smaller) release of these hormones generally occurs between 12-1 pm each day.

Then, as these levels begin to dip, you can experience a decrease in energy.

Most refer to this dip as a midday slump, a time in the early afternoon when you begin to feel the need for a pick-me-up, and cortisol levels are the common culprit here.

So, the best time for afternoon mug merriment is after those cortisol levels decrease, and for most, this means a time frame roughly between 1-5 pm.

By waiting until after this hormone release wears off, you won’t be interfering with your body’s natural energy production

But, as with the morning coffee enjoyment recommendations, there are a few caveats here as well.

The stimulating effects of caffeine are said to last between 3 and 5 hours, and roughly half the amount of caffeine you consume remains in your body even after 5 hours.

So, as you can probably expect, consuming an afternoon cup towards the latter end of that window (1-5 pm) could result in disrupted sleep for those with a bedtime curfew in that 3-5 hour time frame.

Speaking to this notion, some studies have concluded that a 2-3 pm cutoff time is best for coffee-lovers. This is also why most experts advise against consuming coffee (caffeinated varieties) a minimum of 6 hours prior to bedtime.

Coffee In The Evening

So then, if 2-3 pm is the cutoff time for coffee enjoyment, with 5 pm being the absolute stopping point even by loose standards, then doesn’t this cut out evening coffee enjoyment altogether?

For many…yes.

But wait, the Italians do it, right?

It is true that in Italy a common practice is to enjoy a shot of espresso after dinner. However, many theorize the reason this has little effect on sleeping habits is because Italians are said to go to bed at a later hour.

An espresso after dinner also involves a bit of alcohol in Italian tradition, where grappa is added to espresso, thereby correcting the effects of the espresso, known as a corretto.

Outside of Italian tradition, however, the experts finally seem to agree when it comes to consuming coffee in the evening, namely that it is detrimental to sleep.

One study showed that consuming caffeine even 6 hours before bedtime can equate to an hour of lost sleep. And, while an hour doesn’t sound too bad, consider the amount of sleep lost when this happens frequently.

You see, when caffeine is consumed in the evening, your body’s natural production of melatonin is set back. And, the production of this hormone is needed to help you fall asleep and wake up in a rhythm, circadian rhythm to be exact.

Even your quality of sleep can be affected by caffeine.

Throughout the night you cycle through different phases of sleep, and this is needed for your body to perform needed functions, including those needed in healing.

But, when you have caffeine in your body, your sleep is commonly interrupted, whether you realize it or not.

Drinking coffee too late in the evening can also mean you’ll be up more throughout the night to go to the bathroom.

As we mentioned earlier, caffeine is a diuretic, so having a cup of joe after dinner could mean you’ll be sacrificing sleep as you wake to use the restroom throughout the night.

Even night sweats have been linked to consuming caffeine late in the afternoon or evening.

But, before you begin to think we’re just pouring you a cup of gloom and doom, we’d be remiss to not point out the fact that every individual is different.

Perhaps you, or someone you know, commonly enjoys a small cup of coffee after dinner without any detriment to your sleep patterns.

And, even without the mention of differing levels of caffeine tolerance, it’s also true that in today’s day and time, bed time hours vary greatly from individual to individual, meaning that some can enjoy a cup of joe after their 5:00 dinner and their shut-eye doesn’t suffer because their head doesn’t hit the pillow until roughly midnight.

Between job schedules and life differences, it wouldn’t be unheard of for you to be able to savor a cup of coffee in the evening, sleep and health unhindered. That doesn’t, however, negate the importance of the information shared here.

Why? Because restful, healthy sleep is vital to your overall health and wellbeing, as is natural energy production.

So, if you happen to be someone who is able to enjoy a cup of tasty coffee after dinner, just be sure you’re still aware of the pitfalls of caffeine and seek to make a few changes if health is your top priority.

Recap And More

Before we recap the information we’ve covered here today, we do want to address the overall subject of coffee and caffeine. This isn’t in depth enough to demand a full section, but there are a few things to note when enjoying your brew:

  • The average person can safely consume 400 mg of caffeine daily. The average 8 ounce cup of coffee contains 80-100 milligrams of caffeine. So, to put this into perspective as it pertains to your sleep patterns and overall health, The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine has observed that 400 milligrams of caffeine consumed 0, 3, and 6 hours prior to bedtime can significantly disrupt sleep.
  • The amount of time you brew coffee can affect the amount of caffeine in your cup, with longer brewing times extracting more caffeine.
  • The amount of coffee you use when making your preferred brew can affect caffeine levels as well. You likely notice this in the strength of your brew, as using more coffee can result in a stronger cup. But, this also translates to a greater amount of caffeine in that cup.
  • Espresso is often thought to contain more caffeine than drip coffee, however, since espresso is served in one ounce shots, one ounce of espresso in fact contains less caffeine than an average cup of brewed coffee. Ounce for ounce, espresso does contain more caffeine, but per ounce, espresso only contains 63 mg, which is less than an average cup of regular drip coffee.

 

So, we’d like to close out with an overall list of tips from the information we’ve covered here today:

  • In the morning, seek to skip the mug at least long enough to enjoy a glass of water to properly rehydrate your body after a night of sleep.
  • Once you’ve hydrated, see if you can wait a bit longer, while your cortisol levels are highest, before truly enjoying your first cup of coffee. Get in a workout, enjoy a little sunshine for some natural circadian rhythm support and a healthy dose of vitamin D, then savor each sip.
  • If your wake-up time happens to be near the 6:30 am mark, most experts agree that 9:30-11:30, or mid-morning, is the best time to enjoy your first (and second, etc) cup of coffee.
  • If you love to have a cup of coffee in the afternoon, be mindful of two things: your cortisol levels and what time you plan to go to sleep that night. Enjoying coffee after 1:00 pm generally means your cortisol levels have already dipped, but savoring your brew too late in the afternoon can disrupt sleep patterns as it takes 3-5 hours for caffeine to lose its stimulating effects.
  • Since caffeine has a half life of 5 (or more) hours, the most common expert advice is to limit caffeine within 6 hours of bedtime.
  • Caffeine consumption within 6 hours of bedtime can interfere with melatonin production, cause interrupted sleep, night sweats, and may keep you up throughout the night due to its diuretic effects.


And, of course, before we close out, we’ll also address the potential, equally tasty, elephant in the room. No, we’re not dining on pachyderm…we’re referring to decaf!

If you simply must have a cup of joe in the afternoon or evening, but you’ve found this to be detrimental to your sleep habits, you can also swap your regular brew for decaf.

Now, as far as the best times to consume your brew throughout the day, as you’ve seen here, this can be tricky, even for the experts. And, this is why you’ll likely find a range of start-stop times when searching for what’s best when it comes to enjoying your beloved brew.

Coffee that’s been decaffeinated through the Swiss Water Method is just as tasty, it hasn’t been exposed to harsh chemicals to remove the caffeine, and it may be just what the sleep doctor ordered when it comes to savoring a cup of coffee, or two, later in the day!

Check out Lifeboost Coffee Embolden Dark Roast .

Medical Disclaimer
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Charles Livingston nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.

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