How To Make The Most Of Your Coffee Habit

by Toria Sheffield
Beautiful young woman reading a book. She  sitting on the sofa and holding cup of tea.
Sladic/E+/Getty Images

I love coffee. I love the taste, I love the routine; I even love it so much I actively look forward to the next morning's cup before going to bed each night. It's why knowing when I should be drinking coffee, as opposed to just chugging it down all day long like I would do if left to my own devices, is pretty important to my ability to sleep well and function — especially considering it's technically a psychotropic stimulant.

And I know I'm not alone. According to a piece on Science Alert, coffee is the most widely used psycho-active substance on the planet. And according to Steven Miller, Ph.D, in the same piece, this is important when we consider that caffeine is a drug, and drugs have a very real effect on our internal body chemistry. Thus, knowing when our bodies most benefit from caffeine (i.e: a drug) versus when it will just make us unfocussed can be the difference between feeling great and being productive and just feeling like a jittery pile of nerves.

Basically, we shouldn't necessarily be downing coffee the moment we wake up, or assuming that the answer to feeling tired is a Starbucks run — if you're not in tune with your body and what it really needs, you could be actively making yourself more tired and unproductive.

If you're a coffee lover like myself, but also want to make sure you're coffee's master — and not the other way around — here are seven tips for being a super strategic coffee drinker.

1. Don't Drink It First Thing

According to health writer and blogger Linda Wasmer Andrews for a piece for Psychology Today, drinking coffee right when you wake up is usually not the optimal time to be drinking it. She noted that cortisol levels — the hormone that makes us feel alert and awake — peak in our bodies between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., and start to drop off after. This means that your body is actually pretty alert for the first hour or so after you wake up, and you may be better off waiting until you actually get into the office to have your first cup — especially if you've been trying to limit your overall coffee intake and usually have gulped down two cups by 10 a.m.

2. Don't Fear The Early Afternoon Cup Of Java

Wasmer also noted that our cortisol levels generally experience a kind of mini-peak around lunch time, dropping off again around 1pm. So instead of drinking coffee right before or with lunch, try saving it for when you sit back down at your desk. You'll likely find it hits you when you actually need it way more effectively.

3. Space It Out

According to a study out of Harvard Medical School, researchers have found that small, frequent doses of caffeine are generally way more effective than a huge jolt first thing in the morning. Charles Czeisler, one of the school's head professors, said that about a quarter of a cup of coffee every hour kept study participants more alert throughout the day than a large cup every few hours.

4. Don't Drink 6 Hours Before Bed

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that consuming caffeine as early as six hours before bed has "important disruptive effects" on our sleep patterns. And while this might sound kind of hard, if you typically go to bed around 10 or 11 each night, it just means not drinking coffee after 4 or 5 p.m. — and that's not so crazy! And if you're a beverage addict like myself, just switch it out with seltzer or an herbal tea.

5. Alternate With Water

In a piece for SFgate, sports medicine writer Jan Annigan suggested alternating every caffeinated drink you have each day with a glass of water."The diuretic effect of caffeine increases your urine output. The more you drink in a short amount of time, the more water you could lose," she said. So basically, over-doing it on coffee to make you feel better can actually make you feel way worse.

6. Don't Worry About Overdoing It

There's a lot of talk about the negative effects of drinking too much coffee, but the good news is drinking a lot (an appropriate number of hours before bed) might actually not really negatively affect us at all. In a piece for Shape, Rob van Dam, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, said that women who drank six cups of coffee a day exhibit no greater health problems than women who drank none. In fact he noted that a sweet spot might even be between three and five cups, as it could potentially reduce our risk of certain diseases.

7. Make Your Own When Possible

Mr. Coffee BVMC-SJX33GT 12-Cup Programmable Coffeemaker, $34.92,

This is more a budget strategy than a coffee strategy per se, but considering the fact that the average American spends $1,100 a year on coffee according to ABC News, it's worth mentioning. Plus, since this average also includes people who don't spend any money on coffee at all, we can assume some of us actually are spending a lot more. Coffee is awesome and it can brighten your day, but don't let it also break your bank.

As much as I personally love coffee, it's always important to remember that it's a chemical stimulant that actively affects our bodies, and we should treat it as such. If you've been feeling jittery lately, or like your coffee habits aren't actually making you any more productive, maybe it's time to try out some or all of the above tips.

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