• Robb G. Best

Stop Coffee From Tanking Your Metabolism

It's a common scenario for many: after a night of poor or interrupted sleep, your first move, before doing anything else, is to drink a mug or two of coffee. However, new research from the Centre for Nutrition, Exercise & Metabolism at the University of Bath suggests this pre-breakfast java does a number on your metabolism's ability to control blood glucose (sugar) levels.

Keeping those blood glucose levels in check is a key part of reducing risk for conditions like diabetes and heart disease, and especially considering the global popularity of coffee, the results of this study could have "far-reaching" implications.

Physiologists at the University of Bath recruited 29 healthy people to undergo three different overnight experiments, administered in a random order:

  • Participants had a normal night of sleep and were given a sugary drink (calorie-wise, about equivalent to a breakfast) once they'd woken up.

  • Participants had an interrupted night of sleep, with the researchers waking them up every hour. In the morning, they were given the same sugary drink.

  • Participants had an interrupted night of sleep, with the researchers waking them up every hour. In the morning, they were given a strong black coffee, and then thirty minutes later, given the same sugary drink.

In each scenario, blood samples were drawn after the participants finished the sugary drink.

Although it should be noted that 29 is not a large enough sample size to draw definitive conclusions, this piece of research did suggest a few interesting things.

First of all, looking at the results of these 29 people, it seems that a single night of interrupted sleep did not worsen blood glucose/insulin responses. We know from previous studies that repeated nights of poor sleep do have an adverse effect, but apparently, the harm needs time to accumulate, and one night is not enough. This is great news for anyone who has very occasional nights of poor sleep.

However, drinking that single cup of strong black coffee before breakfast increased the blood glucose response to those calories by roughly 50%. In other words, the metabolic reaction was considerably worse in terms of maintaining a healthy blood sugar level.

Professor James Betts, who oversaw the work and who serves as Co-Director of the Centre for Nutrition, Exercise and Metabolism at the University of Bath who oversaw the work, says, “Put simply, our blood sugar control is impaired when the first thing our bodies come into contact with is coffee especially after a night of disrupted sleep. We might improve this by eating first and then drinking coffee later if we feel we still feel the need it. Knowing this can have important health benefits for us all.”

Lead researcher Harry Smith from the Department for Health at Bath echoed Betts's recommendation to drink coffee after breakfast instead of before eating, and added, “There is a lot more we need to learn about the effects of sleep on our metabolism, such as how much sleep disruption is necessary to impair our metabolism and what some of the longer-term implications of this are, as well as how exercise, for instance, could help to counter some of this.”

In the meantime, the next time you wake up from a night of unsatisfactory sleep and start towards the coffeemaker, remember to change course and eat some breakfast first. Once you've got some food in you, only then should you proceed to the percolator.

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