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I Tried Huberman’s Coffee Rules For 6 Months & This Is What I Learned

Emma Loewe
September 3, 2023
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
By Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us."
milk pouring into a glass of ice coffee
Image by Alberto Bogo / Unsplash
September 3, 2023
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I've attempted to make many changes in the name of well-being, and to be honest, a lot of them haven't stuck. Sure, drinking a green smoothie every morning was nice in theory, but for me, it ended up not being worth the extra time or groceries. And getting good at Pilates sure sounded great, but that kind of movement just doesn't do it for me.

The only time I'll stick with a change is if I see a dramatic improvement once I start it and, perhaps more importantly, I can feel a difference on the days when I don't do it.

There's one routine tweak I've made this year that ticks off both of these boxes and then some: drinking my first cup of coffee later in the morning. After trying this at the urging of neurobiologist Andrew Huberman, Ph.D., I've noticed my energy levels increase, my sleep quality improve, and my mood swings steady.

Here's what Huberman taught me about this protocol and why I'm never even looking at coffee before 9:30 a.m. again.

Why you should wait 90-120 minutes after waking before consuming caffeine

In an episode of his podcast titled Using Caffeine to Optimize Mental & Physical Performance, Huberman explains why delaying caffeine intake by 90-120 minutes after waking can improve energy and cognition (with the exception being if you do intense exercise in the morning; then you might want to get your caffeine fix earlier).

"There's a huge advantage to restricting caffeine intake to the earlier part of your day," he says. And about midway through the episode, he digs into the neuroscience behind why.

Coffee makes us feel more awake in part because of the way that it interacts with adenosine—a molecule that inhibits alertness and causes us to feel sleepy. As the day goes on, adenosine begins to build up in the brain, then it clears out once we sleep. Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors in the brain1, but it doesn't actually clear the molecule. This is important to remember: It's why coffee doesn't really "get rid" of your tiredness if you're underslept—it just staves it off until later.

Now, for how delaying caffeine comes in: When you wake up in the morning, even though you may feel sleepy, your adenosine levels should actually be at their lowest. For this reason, you're better off waiting 1.5 to 2 hours to give your body time to wake itself up naturally (you can help it out by hydrating, getting some sun, and moving around to get your morning cortisol flowing) and allowing adenosine to build a bit.

Then, not only will your first cup of coffee actually produce a more noticeable feeling of alertness (due to the adenosine buildup), but it could also help reinforce your natural sleep-wake cycles. If you start drinking caffeine later in the morning, you'll be less likely to feel an energy dip around lunch. This can help you avoid drinking caffeine too close to bedtime.

"By delaying your caffeine to 90-120 minutes after waking, you set up your system so you get that morning cortisol peak—and then when you ingest your caffeine, not only will you be craving it just a little bit, but you will be drinking that caffeine on an already existing backdrop of increased alertness," Huberman explains. However, he notes that it's totally fine to drink coffee before this minute marker—you might just want to factor in an afternoon nap.

Avoiding caffeine later in the day could also improve your sleep quality. By helping you clear out even more adenosine during rest, it'll lead to a positive feedback loop of awesome energy and stamina.

It all sounds great, right? I sure thought so, and after finishing up the episode, I vowed to try it out the next morning.

My experience drinking coffee later in the morning

I used to usually have coffee within 30 minutes of waking up and keep drinking throughout the afternoon. I typically had 2-3 cups a day between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. (though if I was really tired, I'd occasionally drink another cup later). And to be clear, I didn't see a problem with this routine! Coffee is considered health-protective2 up to amounts higher than this, and even on the days that I drank it close to bedtime, my sleep never seemed to take that much of a hit.

But after hearing about the potential benefits of delaying my first cup, I figured I might as well try it just to see what happened.

While the urge to start drinking coffee right away was strong on my first day, the craving passed pretty quickly, and I was surprised by how well my body could wake itself up without caffeine (thank you, cortisol!). This initial energy started to wear off around that 1.5-hour mark, making me really excited for my morning brew. When I did finally sip my coffee, it felt incredibly satisfying, its energizing effect was more noticeable, and I swear it even tasted better than usual.

It's been about six months since I first made this change, and I've managed to stick with it on most mornings. Waiting those initial 90 minutes turned out to be easier than I thought (except after nights that I drink alcohol—another reason to lay off the booze). And the perks that I get out of that first cup far outweigh any grogginess I feel before it.

Now that I'm drinking coffee later, I've definitely noticed that I am less likely to reach for that afternoon fix. And though my sleep was pretty good to begin with, I've found that it's gotten better now that I only drink coffee in the mornings. (Huberman says that this will be the case for about 95% of us—very few people actually metabolize caffeine as quickly as they think they do.) And while my mood and energy levels used to oscillate as the day went on, they feel much steadier since I've made this change.

Now, I recommend this small tweak to anyone who wants to further optimize their caffeine intake. It's made coffee feel like an incredible tool that I own—not one that owns me.

The takeaway

On his podcast, The Huberman Lab, neuroscientist Andrew Huberman, Ph.D., extols the virtues of waiting 90-120 minutes after waking up before consuming caffeine. I can attest: Making this change has improved my already pretty great relationship with coffee, and I look forward to keeping it up in the name of more energized mornings and restful nights.

Emma Loewe author page.
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director

Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.

Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.