Disclaimer: I love coffee
I, like many, have gone through phases of abstaining from coffee and then drinking it regularly.
Coffee is a popular energy hit. It is also frequently misused.
Stimulate your senses
Most people know coffee contains caffeine, and caffeine is a stimulant.
When we ingest caffeine, our brain blocks the effect of adenosine (a by-product of cellular activity, which builds up from the moment we wake up each day, that causes us to feel tired).
In addition to the ‘caffeine factor’, coffee also causes the body to release two stimulating hormones – adrenaline and cortisone.
When to drink
Depends on what you are after. If you have an incredibly important ‘once-in-a-blue-moon’ deadline that you have to beat, then if I was in your shoes I’d just drink the coffee when I felt a lull and power on! I’d accept I’m going to have a shocking sleep, and try to catch up over the course of the next few days.
But if you want to boost your energy levels long term, and you’re a daytime worker of course, you should be a sporadic coffee-sipper who drinks coffee in the morning/very early afternoon only. Why? Because sleep and your ability to ‘switch off’ are the foundation of sustainable energy. And an ill-timed coffee can stuff that up for you.
In a nutshell, when you drink a caffeinated drink, the caffeine in that drink has a half-life of five to seven hours. So if you go to bed at 10.00pm and had an afternoon coffee at 5.00pm, the caffeine may still be in your system.
I play it safe by making sure I finish up my coffee by 3.00pm. Of course, this is based on my bedtime and what I’ve found works for me. In my experience, if I have a coffee later than this at work, I end up feeling frazzled when I finish. This then makes it harder for me to wind down at the end of the day, and I have a poor sleep.
If you have a nightshift or go to bed later than me, the timing might be different for you. Play around and see what works.
For every burst of short-term energy you get form coffee you get a sustained energy lull after the buzz is worn off. Unfortunately, you won’t get the same energy kick you’ll get from subsequent coffees, but you will get a bigger lull at the end.
For this reason, I try to keep it to one cup a day on some days of the week. That fluctuates, but I’ve found this to be by optimal ‘default’.
Sometimes I have two cups on one day, but I find now I’ve reduced my caffeine intake the energy dip afterwards is never worth it for me.
I’m basing this on ‘fresh’ espresso coffee only (usually up to 350mg of caffeine). Certain coffee beans contain more caffeine than others, and fresh coffee has more caffeine than instant. Also remember caffeine is contained in other items like tea, cola, cocoa, and chocolate.
‘But I need more to function!’
If you’re saying the above and serious about increasing your energy… you need to cut down. End of story.
You will not get the short-term energy benefits you get from coffee if you are addicted to caffeine. Your body is just too overdrawn. By continuing to drink large amounts of coffee on a daily basis your body has no chance to recover. Adrenaline and cortisol hormones are being constantly produced, throwing your body into ongoing stress… which ultimately leaves you burnt out.
I was in the same position as you. To re-adjust, I had to abstain… and wow! The headaches, the tiredness, the cravings… yikes. Worth it though. Because I noticed within a few days how much more natural energy I had. Then when I eventually had my first coffee again, I got a big boost again like when I first started having it.
Based on the above, I try to limit myself to one cup of coffee (below 300mg of caffeine) per day, but for only a couple of days a week, at a different time each day, but always before 3.00pm.
A handy set of rules to remember is:
1. Coffee is not for everyone.
2. The benefit you get from coffee is not proportional from the amount you drink.