A brainiac at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences has figured out there's an optimal time to get the maximum jolt from your cup of coffee, and it's not first thing in the morning.
Steven Miller, a Ph.D candidate at USUHS, blogged on brainfacts.org about chronopharmacology – the science behind determining the best time to take medications depending on biological rhythms. And the optimal time for caffeine, Miller theorizes, is not when the body's stress hormones are at their morning peak, usually between 8 and 9 a.m.
Drinking coffee when your blood levels of the hormone cortisol are at their highest is simply not necessary and could actually lead to increased tolerance of caffeine, Miller wrote.
"You are drinking caffeine at a time when you are already approaching your maximal level of alertness naturally. One of the key principles of pharmacology is use a drug when it is needed (although I'm sure some scientists might argue that caffeine is always needed)," he said.
The best time for consuming caffeine is after cortisol levels dip, between 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. It also would be effective after 1:30 p.m. because cortisol levels peak again between noon and 1 p.m.
While these times aren't set in stone, it's likely that early risers, including most military people who get up before 6 a.m., still would have cortisol levels peak around the same time as later sleepers because their body clocks have not yet been exposed to the "strongest stimulus for the circadian clock -- light," Miller said in an e-mail exchange with PT365.
At 5 a.m., a cup of coffee is probably a good idea to "help with alertness," he added.
To get moving in the morning without your morning cup, Miller suggests you can jump start your body clock by exposing yourself to sunlight. A lecturer once told him to consider driving to work without sunglasses.
"This would allow for stronger signals to be sent along the retinohypothalamic tract to stimulate the suprachiasmatic nucleus and increase your morning cortisol production at a faster rate," which, in science speak, means that the sunlight, working through your eyeballs, revs up the part of the brain that acts as your body's master clock and sets your rhythm for the day.
Patricia Kime is the health reporter for Military Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.