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Why you shouldn't drink coffee first thing in the morning

Coffee morning. (Getty Images)
You might want to think twice before reaching for your coffee first tomorrow morning. (Getty Images)

While you might instinctively reach for the coffee machine each morning, weary eyed and in need of a caffeine fix, experts are warning against doing this first thing.

This is because drinking coffee too early can spike your cortisol levels further and doing so on an empty stomach can lead to digestion problems – not the best way to start your day.

The production of cortisol can leave you feeling more down and anxious than you started. Meanwhile, after a night of sleep our bodies need hydration and, sadly, caffeine has the opposite effect, causing us to feel more dehydrated.

But fear not, nutrition experts are instead recommending consuming (at least) a glass of water in the morning, before turning to coffee. It's not just a night out you need to 'line your stomach' for you.

It's also important to bear in mind the best time to drink coffee is a few hours after waking up as that's when the body's cortisol levels are lower.

man breakfast
Have some water and food before consuming coffee. (Getty Images)

"Many of us are relying on that first sip of coffee in the morning to make us feel energised for the day. However, drinking coffee first thing in the morning can actually lead to increased stress levels and fatigue," says Ashleigh Tosh from Prepped Pots powered by MuscleFood.

"This is because your cortisol levels are already naturally high in the morning and caffeine increases them even more. Having a cup of coffee on an empty stomach can also irritate your stomach and cause digestive issues.

"If you still wish to include coffee in your morning routine then consider adjusting the timing and have it with food or after you’ve had your first meal of the day.

"It’s best to leave a few hours in between waking up and having your caffeine fix, for example if you wake up at seven then consider making your first cup at midmorning, around ten to eleven o’clock.”

To recap, here the nutrition experts from Prepped Pots run through why it's important to get something down you (and preferably to wait a while) before getting your caffeine fix.

1. Cortisol

Cortisol levels peak when you first wake up but having a cup of coffee in the morning can increase them even further. By interfering with the body’s cortisol production, that early cup of coffee can leave you feeling more stressed and anxious. It’s best to hold off drinking coffee until mid-morning, a few hours after waking up, when your cortisol levels are lower.

2. Upset stomach

Woman with hands on stomach suffering from pain stock photo. Shadow DOF. Developed from RAW; retouched with special care and attention; Small amount of grain added for best final impression. 16 bit Adobe RGB color profile.
Could your stomach symptoms be related to you having coffee first thing? (Getty images)

Drinking coffee on an empty stomach can cause digestive issues and worsen symptoms of IBS. This is because coffee’s bitterness can trigger the production of stomach acid. Line up your stomach to soften the caffeine’s blow to your digestion by enjoying your coffee after breakfast or along with food.

3. Dehydration

Drinking coffee shortly after waking up is extremely dehydrating because caffeine has a diuretic effect on your body, which means it can draw fluids out. After a night’s sleep, you need to rehydrate yourself, so it’s better to opt for a glass of water instead of coffee first thing in the morning.

4. Tolerance for caffeine

Young man drinking coffee to go while traveling by public transport.
The more coffee you have, the more you need, which isn't great for us. (Getty Images)

Regular coffee intake can lead to the development of long-term caffeine tolerances, replacing the natural cortisol boost with caffeine. This can alter our brain chemistry, requiring progressively larger amounts of caffeine to achieve the same effects. If habitual coffee drinkers feel exhausted in the morning without their coffee, it could be because their cortisol production has been altered.

5. Poor sleep

When the cortisol hormones in your body are disrupted, it can affect your circadian rhythm which is essentially your body’s internal clock, and ruin your sleep. High levels of cortisol can increase your blood sugar levels, leading to insulin resistance and a drop in energy. Additionally, excess cortisol can affect your sleep patterns and quality, as your body produces more stress hormones at night when cortisol levels should be low. Poor sleep can lead to problems with fatigue.