Waking Up Is Hard To Do: Christine’s Morning Caffeine Experiment

My mornings usually start by putting on the kettle for a strong cup of tea. As my tea steeps, I putter around: letting the dog out, making breakfast, taking my meds, the usual morning stuff. Then I sit down to drink my (very strong) tea and eat breakfast before doing my work.

A meme featuring country singer Dolly Parton (a white woman with long blond hair, and purple eye shadow, wearing a purple dress.) The top half of the image shows her holding a microphone and the word caffeine is printed next to her three times. The bottom image is  a close-up of Parton's face with the word caffeeeeeeeine written above her. The meme is supposed to remind your of Parton's famous song 'Jolene.'

But, I always have trouble moving from first-thing-in-the-morning mode into start-my-work mode. Part of the issue is that I work from home (I know lots of people recognize the inherent challenges in that these days), and I work for myself, so the beginning of my day is not clearly defined. I can dawdle over my tea or I can do a load of laundry, or whatever before starting work.

Given my ADHD, that’s a dangerous zone for me. It’s all too easy to lose time and discover that it is way past time to be at my desk. Once the start of my work day gets thrown off, I can end up feeling off-balance all day.

Obviously, that’s no fun. So, for ages, I have been experimenting with ways to make the transition from home to work a little clearer.

And, lately, I have found help from a strange source – delayed caffeine. 

A few weeks ago, I was rereading part of Daniel Pink’s book ‘When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing’ and I noticed that he recommends not having caffeine first thing in the morning.  The reasoning behind this as follows:

“The moment we awaken, our bodies begin producing cortisol, a stress hormone that kickstarts our groggy souls. But it turns out that caffeine interferes with the production of cortisol – so starting the day immediately with a cup of coffee barely boosts our wakefulness. Worse, early-morning coffee increases our tolerance for caffeine, which means we must gulp every more to obtain its benefits.” (p.46)

A meme featuring a hologram of Princess Leia (a white woman with dark hair, wearing a white garment) from Star Wars. A coffee cup has been photoshopped into her hand and the text reads 'Help me, Caffeine, you're my only hope.'

The solution according to Pink is to have your caffeine an hour or so after waking up because your cortisol has kicked in by then and the caffeine will have an added effect. 

So, I’ve given it a try for the past couple of weeks and I’ve noticed a real change in how I feel in the mornings. 

It’s a little difficult to describe but there is a definite difference. 

My shift from first-thing grogginess to being fully awake is more gradual and the process just feels better.

And since my caffeine infusion is coming later in my morning routine, it is no longer the marker of ‘time to have breakfast.’ Instead, it has become the marker of ‘time to start work’ and I am finding it easier to get to my desk.

The caffeine right before work might be part of the reason it has been easier to get started but the improvement might just be because of the change in routine.

Either way, I feel better about my mornings – the way I wake up and the way I start work- and that has increased my overall sense of well-being.

That’s definitely worth waiting an hour for my tea.

A white mug with a yellow interior   and a drawing of a grumpy  robot on the front is sitting on a wooden table.
I still a bit grumpy in the mornings but not as grumpy as this robot, who, according to the other side of my mug, is grumpy because they disapprove of dropping the Oxford comma.

How do you feel about caffeine first thing?

Would you ever experiment with delaying that first cup?

5 thoughts on “Waking Up Is Hard To Do: Christine’s Morning Caffeine Experiment

  1. I have never never needed my caffeine first thing in the morning, but it is definitely a work time trigger. I put my tea in my travel mug just before going to work in my basement, just as I used to make it immediately before heading to the office in the before times. I tried using a regular cup but it didn’t signal “work” to me.

  2. This is interesting to me.
    When I was going to the office, I typically didn’t have my first cup of coffee until on my way to work or when I got there. Sometimes I’d work out in the morning first too, so I was up for a long time before coffee. Weekends were when I’d have my coffee first thing when waking up, in bed.
    Since working from home, every morning has become coffee upon waking, in bed, morning.
    Even if I go work out, like this morning and leave the house before 7, I find I need a coffee.
    This never used to be the case. Plus I am drinking a lot more coffee throughout the day.

    The getting started with work thing is separate for me. I’m a procrastinator unless there is something urgent going on.

  3. I don’t have caffeine until quite a while after waking. Usually at work, so by the time I get there I have been up for a couple of hours.
    I am experimenting with eating something before my coffee, however. I use Ayurveda and my digestion and liver both feel off. Apparently caffeine aggravates that. I’m hoping adding a small breakfast, which I usually skip, helps with this.


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