Your morning cup of coffee might actually make you way more tired rather than wake you up. But there could be a loophole to help you bag the biggest possible buzz from your cup of joe…
Coffee is one of the most popular drinks on earth with over two billion cups of the stuff consumed every single day. It’s no secret that coffee is pretty central to Australian culture too, with the average Aussie consuming over two kilograms (or well over 300 cups) of coffee every year and 75% of us indulging on the daily.
Coffee’s effects on productivity are well-known and well-documented, with many dubbing it capitalism’s drug of choice thanks to its unrivalled power to help us get stuff done – so much so that in the 1950s the coffee break was enshrined in American law thanks to its ability to “promote more efficiency and result in a greater output”. This came after workers at a necktie factory were found to do as much work in six hours as they had previously done in eight, provided they were given two coffee breaks a day.
However, new research from the University of Newcastle in Australia suggests that the notion that coffee “gives” you extra energy is actually a falsehood – in fact, it just “steals energy” from later in the day and generates longer-term fatigue. How do we know this? It all comes down to a compound called adenosine.
What is adenosine?
Adenosine helps to regulate our sleep and wake cycle. As your day progresses, adenosine levels increase because it’s a by-product of energy use in your cells. When adenosine binds to receptors, it tells your body to slow down energy use, making you feel tired. You go to sleep, energy use drops, adenosine levels drop, and you wake up feeling refreshed.
This is where caffeine comes into play. You might still feel a little drowsy when you wake up – lack of sleep, a few too many schooners, and general stress are all factors here – so you grab a cup of coffee. The caffeine in your coffee is a similar shape to the adenosine compound so it binds to the same receptors, blocking the adenosine from making you feel tired.
Here’s the catch: the adenosine that the caffeine blocks doesn’t go away. Eventually, the caffeine breaks down and all that adenosine swarms onto the receptors it’s been looking for. Therefore, caffeine never actually gives you any additional energy, it just buys you some time before the tiredness catches up with you.
This is where you have to get tactical. You’ll never be able to completely beat the adenosine-induced crash, but you can try to time your caffeine intake to get the best buzz for your buck.
Have your coffee later in the day
We’ve talked about adenosine, now let’s talk about cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that makes you feel alert. It naturally peaks when you wake up. Therefore, you may not actually need your coffee first-thing.
Moreover, the less adenosine in your system, the less tired you’ll feel and the less adenosine-blocking any caffeine you consume can actually perform. That’s why it makes sense to drink your coffee later in the day when you already feel more tired; the caffeine will likely feel much more powerful.
A word to the wise here, however: the only way to truly get rested and re-energise is through a good night’s sleep. Caffeine has a half-life of around five hours, so bear this in mind when deciding if that late-in-the-day coffee is the right decision; you don’t want to jeopardise your much-need shuteye with a double-macchiato alongside the evening news.
Though tumbling out of bed, dragging yourself to the kitchen, and pouring a double cappuccino may be second nature, it’s time to reconsider your caffeine calendar. Hold off on that first hit for a few more hours, and you might just be amazed at how much further you can go.