An Experiment with Caffeine

Two weeks ago, I took a little less than 6 hours and listened to Daniel Pink’s new book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. He wrote this book to fill a void in the How To world that has come to dominate the self help and self improvement landscape: when do we do these things that we have learned how to do?

Not too surprisingly, many of us operate on a U curve.  We begin the day at a high level of thinking and functioning, hit a midday trough filled with yawning and a lapse in your analytical abilities, followed by a little rejuvenation at the end of the day.

Last week, I decided to experiment with some of the wisdom that his research suggested. He brought up coffee in his book and as a connoisseur of the beverage, I perked up when he began speaking about this (bonus: Dan Pink reads his audio book).

There are a few times during the day that your cup of java will be most effective.  On the flip side, there is a time in which it might feel effective, but it is actually not doing the body good.  This time, oddly enough, was when I was drinking coffee.  As such, I wanted to see if there was any truth to this.

The Best Part of Waking Up

When you first awake, our bodies begin producing cortisol.  Cortisol is a hormone that wakes up the body and gets us ready for our day.  According to the research, drinking coffee immediately upon waking up interferes with the body’s natural production of cortisol.

So, it is best to wait 60-90 minutes after you wake up for that first cup of coffee.  This is when the body takes a nose dive in the production of cortisol.

The first few days of waiting 60-90 minutes for that first cup was NOT FUN.  However, it did get easier, and I do feel great after a week of experimentation.  Good enough, in fact, to continue the habit.

In my mind, my body is responding with, “What is this?? You’re finally letting me do my job in producing cortisol for you?  HOORAY! I’m glad you finally got the memo!”

Nap Time!

Sometime in the 2-3 PM time slot (this differs from person to person) is when most of us hit a serious trough. Unfortunately, the majority of us do not have the luxury of scheduling a siesta during this time.

What may be in your power, is to never schedule anything that will take analytical thought during this time. If you can, schedule a break.  Optimally, you have a zero gravity chair that can fold up and stow away in your office like mine.


Which brings me to what Daniel Pink calls the nappuccino.  It takes about 25 minutes for the caffeine from a cup of coffee to kick in. So, sometime in that 2-3 PM range, down a cup of coffee, and kick back for a snooze. It generally takes about 7 minutes for us to fall asleep, and then 15-18 minutes later, the caffeine kicks in to wake you up, and you have the most productive afternoon and evening that you’ve had in years.

I’ve been experimenting with the nappuccino for a lot longer than a week, as I heard about this a while ago, but I took it up a notch and tried my best to incorporate it into every day last week.

You can bet that next semester, I will not be scheduling anything between 2 and 3 PM if I can help it.

From personal experience, I am still amazed at how focused and energized I am after successfully pulling a nappuccino off.  The 25-30 minutes it takes to get this done is minuscule in comparison with the amount of work you accomplish after the fact.

For some of you, it will take training. You are not nappers, you tell yourself. Neither was Daniel Pink. He hated napping. In his book, he describes how he eventually embraced the nap and how it has changed his life.

For a quick, 115 second video of Daniel Pink describing the ideas above, check out his Pinkcast 2.15.  He also provides links to further research on the science behind these ideas.

-This blog was written after a nappuccino. 

A Thirst for Coffee and Knowledge

One of my many passions is Coffee. I’ve thought about it a lot since 1996. Only recently did I pick up a book by Kenneth Davids called Coffee: A Guide to Buying, Brewing, and Enjoying. It was shocking to find out this book is in its 5th edition (2001), with its first edition coming out in 1976. This knowledge of coffee has been at any person’s disposal for the last 39 years.

Even if I wind up in a career outside academics, I will always remain a lifelong learner because of my thirst for knowledge. Reading, writing, and thinking isn’t just a passion in my life, it is a necessity. Without books and journals, I would be lost in a desert without water.

To me, seeking knowledge is like water. I need it. This need sometimes narrows my view of the world, because I delude myself into thinking that everyone else has that same need, or that if they do, that they satisfy it in a way that is even remotely similar to my way.

“Grinding coffee fresh is the single best thing you can do to improve the quality of your coffee… grinding it immediately before brewing is a first and essential step to experiencing it at its peak.”  – Kenneth Davids

Once coffee is ground, it only takes a few hours for it to go stale. Grinding coffee exposes the pleasant oils that are in the coffee bean which begin evaporating immediately.

I didn’t want to give you chance to look away or stop reading, and hence, you may have the feeling that some information about coffee just came at you from right field. Well, there you have it. That infomation won’t affect you at all if you aren’t a coffee drinker. More interesting thoughts and questions come to mind for those of you that are coffee drinkers, and have just obtained that information.

What will coffee drinkers who purchase and drink pre-ground coffee do with this information?  Some will reject it as false, because this information does not fit into their world of coffee drinking. The Folgers or Maxwell House ads they watch and the smell that comes out of their freshly opened container they just purchased leads them to believe something differently. They seek for truth no further. Regardless of how false they believe the swiftness that staleness embraces ground coffee to be, that speed remains true.

Then there are those that don’t care. They continue to purchase and consume pre-ground coffee, admitting that they have been privy to this information and concede its point. But why? Why don’t these coffee drinkers do anything about it?

“Freshly roasted coffee is at its best about a day out of the roaster. If it is kept in an airtight container as whole, unground beans, it can remain splendid if ground & brewed in a week to ten days. But by three weeks out of the roaster, it is well on its way to listless mediocrity.” – Kenneth Davids

Now that just makes some of you downright angry, doesn’t it?!?  Why did I have to go and give you information like that? Your ignorance was so blissful. You never used to care when the coffee you purchased was roasted, but now you’re going to have to check, aren’t you?

It was like the first time somebody pointed out the fact the countless people exit the bathroom without washing their hands, and that they actually have to touch the door handle on their way out. I remember first having that brought to my attention, and having a similar reaction. Dammit! That’s all I’ll ever think about when coming out of a public restroom. Truth. It is all I ever think about, now.

It is truly fascinating what people do with new information.

It was a weird journey for me connecting my love of learning about and enjoying coffee with learning in general. There is a certain bliss in both ignorance and information, as well as both apathy and enthusiasm, and we all must coexist somewhere on this multi-dimensional spectrum. The challenges of this coexistence is just life. I’m getting pretty good at it.