by Ann Taylor
Coffee comes laden with caffeine, and potentially some chemicals and contaminants that can affect us adversely – a consequence of processing and storage. But let’s consider just the caffeine’s effect on cortisol; too much of which is a significant physiological stress and disrupts sleep.
Tests on a cohort of healthy young men have shown that caffeine increases cortisol release, but this stimulation tends to decline with regular daily consumption as the person develops some tolerance (Lovallo etal, 2008). This caffeine/cortisol also acutely raises blood pressure and can cause persistent blood pressure effects in regular coffee consumers (Lovallo etal 2004). Having a chronically raised blood pressure is not healthy at any age for the increased stress on one’s heart and an overstimulated nervous system (called our sympathetic nervous system). And consider what this might mean for an older or less healthy cohort of people and for women with different hormonal patterns?
If you’re someone who cannot contemplate giving up coffee completely, consider at least changing when you drink your coffee for better cortisol regulation and greater stimulatory benefit from that caffeine. The trick is to work with your circadian rhythm and pick a coffee break time when cortisol dips, typically late morning or early afternoon, depending on your blood sugar regulation.
Get out into daylight soon after waking up to naturally shut down melatonin (makes you sleepy) and raise cortisol (makes you alert)
If you have to get up before sunrise, wait for at least an hour before drinking a caffeinated drink, to allow your body to benefit from the natural rise in cortisol called our Cortisol Awakening Response (CAR) (CAR) at awakening
Have a coffee break about 10 or 11 am when you may experience a dip in cortisol with some sense of fatigue (NeuroscienceDC, 2013); OR drink an alternative beverage with less caffeine or with other stimulatory benefits like adaptogenic herbal teas; OR go for a walk to re-oxygenate your brain. Ditto for early afternoon.
Avoid caffeine after 2 pm if you want to sleep that evening, because caffeine can stay in your system for 6 hours or longer (Drake etal, 2013).
Enjoy your good coffee habit or speak to me about healthier beverages!
1. Drake C etal, 2013, Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3 or 6 hours before going to bed, J Cli Sleep Med, 2013 Nov 15; viewed online https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24235903
2. Fries E, Dettenborn L and Kirschbaum C, 2009, The cortisol awakening response (CAR): facts and future directions, Int J Psychophysiol. 2009, Apr https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18854200
3. Lovallo W etal, 2008, Caffeine Stimulation of Cortisol Secretion Across the Waking Hours in Relation to Caffeine Intake Levels, Psychosom Med. 2005, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2257922/
4. Lovallo W etal, 2004, Blood pressure response to caffeine shows incomplete tolerance after short-term regular consumption, Hypertension 2004 Apr, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14967827
NeuroscienceDC, 2013, The best time for your coffee, http://neurosciencedc.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-best-time-for-your-coffee.html