For many of us coffee is an important part of life. In our office the ratio of coffee machines to coffee drinkers is 1:4. Italians are famous for their coffee drinking and a study conducted by a professor at The University of Naples suggested that the magic number is four cups per day.  The study found that coffee has some health benefits especially for the heart and respiratory system.  It is the properties of coffee itself that had the health benefits, it doesn’t matter whether you drink decaf or fully caffeinated coffee.

So when should you drink each of your four cups? If you drink decaf it doesn’t really matter.  If you need the strong stuff then did you know when you first wake up in the morning your body’s natural fight or flight chemicals are at their highest levels, although it might not always feel like it. This is the best time of day to have your first cup because you are in such a high state of arousal that the caffeine will have little effect on your body other than to release endorphins and make you feel a bit more human. Other positive effects include kick starting your metabolism and digestive functions which has additional health benefits.

In Psychological terms caffeine is considered a drug and during my degree we studied the effects this drug has on the body. The results won’t surprise you much, caffeine is a stimulant and so 15 minutes after drinking a fully caffeinated cup of coffee you should start to notice the effects kicking in, your cognitive functions will increase slightly, and you should be able to focus more easily on the tasks you are performing. Over the short term these effects continue to increase for approximately an hour or so before starting to wear off again. Thus, the best time to have a coffee is before you do into a meeting. Of course, we then get the dreaded crash and more caffeine is needed.

After your body starts to normalise again and the effects of the caffeine ware off, which is when you can feel more tired and less able to focus.  Caffeine will only be effective for about six continuous hours each day no matter how much you drink, so if you have your second cup of the day soon after arriving in the office you are likely to experience a crash in the afternoon. It may be best to delay that first work coffee until lunch time so you benefit from the six hours of caffeine in the afternoon when you might need it most.  Caffeine can also affect your ability to sleep well. If you frequently find yourself struggling to sleep at night, try having your last cup of the day before 3pm.

Of course, you could switch to tea. While brewed coffee does have more caffeine than steeped tea, it’s because coffee is a stronger drink than tea. Tea leaves actually contain more caffeine than coffee beans. Before brewing, tea leaves contain more caffeine than coffee beans.  My advice is stick to water and decaf, just warn your colleagues first.