Want to get the most out of coffee? Here's when to drink it.

Hint: Not when you wake up

Many people claim they are unable to start their day without a cup of joe—but drinking coffee first thing in the morning is actually counterproductive, Roberto Ferdman reports for the Washington Post's "Wonkblog."

Ferdman notes that the human body produces cortisol, also known as the "stress hormone" because it often becomes active when we are experiencing stress or fear. The hormone makes us feel more awake and is an integral part of our everyday hormonal cycle.

According to YouTube science explainer ASAP Science, the body's cortisol levels are highest first thing in the morning, so drinking caffeine when cortisol production is at its peak interferes with the body's natural rhythm. In addition, consuming coffee when the body is already producing high levels of cortisol can lead to a caffeine tolerance and actually decreases the amount of cortisol the body produces.

How much coffee is too much coffee?

As such, people who say they cannot start their day without coffee likely have changed their hormonal cycle so much that they need caffeine "in order to reach the level of wakefulness they used to achieve without it," writes Ferdman.

To get the most out of your caffeine, Ferdman says you should consume coffee when cortisol levels are lowest—typically between 10 a.m. and noon, and 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. That is when coffee is most needed and will least disrupt the body's own process (Ferdman, "Wonkblog," Washington Post, 6/1).

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