Is coffee part of your morning routine? If it is, you’re not alone. Nearly 3 out of 4 American adults start their day with a cup of coffee. Hot, iced, black, or overflowing with fluffy foam, coffee drinkers consume an average of three cups each day. For some, it’s a ritual to start the day. For others, it’s a necessity to chase away sluggishness and sleepiness. If you “need” your cup of jo to function, however, you may just be drinking your coffee the wrong way.
Because there’s a science behind getting the maximum amount of benefit from your morning coffee.
Understanding Adenosine, Your Brain, and Caffeine
Want to feel more alert? Understanding the ABCs of coffee consumption (adenosine, brain, and caffeine) can help you maximize the benefits of coffee. Adenosine is a naturally occurring molecule in the body that plays a significant role in regulating sleep and wakefulness. It is often referred to as a neuromodulator because it influences the activity of nerve cells in the brain. Adenosine levels gradually increase in the brain throughout the day. As adenosine builds, so does sleep “pressure.”
Adenosine’s Effect on Sleep
The accumulation of adenosine in the brain is closely linked to the body’s sleep-wake cycle. As adenosine levels rise, you begin to feel more fatigued and drowsy. This accumulation is one of the factors that contribute to the feeling of needing sleep after being awake for an extended period. When you sleep, adenosine levels naturally decrease, helping you wake up feeling refreshed and alert.
Caffeine and Adenosine Interaction
Caffeine, a central nervous system stimulant found in coffee and other beverages, works by blocking adenosine receptors. When you consume caffeine, it competes with adenosine for the same receptors in the brain. By binding to these receptors, caffeine prevents adenosine from exerting its calming and sleep-inducing effects. As a result, you feel more awake, alert, and energized.
How to Time Your Morning Coffee
Want to hack your morning coffee routine? Adjusting the timing of your morning cup of coffee may help you feel more alert and awake throughout the day.
Instead of crawling out of bed straight to the coffee maker, try waiting 30-minutes before your first cup.
As you wake up, your adenosine levels are decreasing, helping you feel awake. When you roll out of bed and stumble to the coffee maker, your brain is clearing out the last of the sleep-promoting adenosine. But caffeine interferes with this natural ebb and flow of adenosine. So if your brain hasn’t finished sweeping away the last of the adenosine signals, caffeine will prevent it from finishing its job. Caffeine shuts a gate against sleep signals, keeping them at bay, but it won’t clean them out of your brain entirely. Those sleep signals will still be there, building up sleep pressure and waiting for your caffeine to wear off. When it does, the gate swings wide open and the rest of those sleep signals come tumbling back into your brain. The result? It’s 2:00 pm and you’re exhausted, chasing after more caffeine or sugar to help combat afternoon sleepiness.
If you can wait long enough in the morning for your brain to do its job and naturally clear our the remaining traces of adenosine before you have your coffee, you can prevent that mid-afternoon crash when your caffeine wears off.
Bonus hack: want to get even more benefit from your new morning routine? Get outside and take a walk when you first wake. Exposing your eyes to bright morning light can help reset your circadian rhythm (your natural sleep-wake clock), promoting morning alertness and good sleep at night.
Then, when you get back from your morning walk, your adenosine levels should be nice and low and it’s the perfect time for you to celebrate with your morning cups of coffee.
Adenosine is a crucial player in regulating sleep and wakefulness. Caffeine, found in coffee, can affect the natural ebb and flow of adenosine in the brain, resulting in more daytime sleepiness after caffeine’s effects wear off. For many people, the very ritual designed to help them wake up in the morning can be causing a caffeine crash later in the day. Get more out of your morning cup by drinking coffee at the right time, and you may get even more benefits from your favorite beverage.