5 Science-Backed Ways School Leaders Can Avoid the Afternoon Slump

Hint: None of these involve coffee.

Without fail, when the clock starts approaching 1 or 2 p.m. every day, our brains and bodies seem to slow down. Whether you blame it on a carb-heavy lunch or even your body temperature dropping, nearly everyone feels sluggish and unmotivated during the dreaded afternoon slump. This includes school leaders.

However, there are steps you can take to keep energy well into the afternoon. Instead of making yet another trip to the coffee maker, here are five science-backed tips for keeping your energy high when you usually feel like taking an afternoon nap.

1. Munch on dark chocolate.

afternoon slump

Yes, you read that right. If you’re feeling sluggish in the afternoon, go ahead and treat yourself—science has your back.

Researchers at Northern Arizona University discovered that eating dark chocolate can help your brain be more alert and attentive. But you should know that eating a regular chocolate bar won’t have the same effects. Researchers say it’s the high cacao content in dark chocolate that makes all the difference.

“A lot of us in the afternoon get a little fuzzy and can’t pay attention, particularly students, so we could have a higher cacao content chocolate bar, and it would increase attention,” says Larry Stevens, a professor of psychological sciences and coauthor of the study, which was published in the journal NeuroRegulation.

2. Limit your insignificant decisions. 


afternoon slump

Principals make many decisions every day—some with huge consequences.

But there are other decisions you make that don’t matter as much. For example, what to wear, which route to take to school, and what to pack for lunch. Adults reportedly make as many as 35,000 decisions a day, which can lead to a very real phenomenon known as decision fatigue. By 2 p.m., your brain probably feels as if it’s run a marathon.

By cutting down on the number of seemingly insignificant decisions you make each day, you can free up energy for your brain to make important ones.

Create your own dress code or uniform. Prep all of your lunches for the week on Sundays. Delegate lower-level decisions to your school’s staffers when possible (it’s good for them anyway). Schedule time throughout the week to worry about certain issues so that your brain isn’t cluttered while you’re trying to complete more important tasks.

3. Refill your water bottle before the afternoon slump.

afternoon slump

Put down the coffee. We repeat: Put down the coffee.

Do you ever have those days when you look up at the clock after lunch and realize you’ve had nothing but coffee to drink all day? What your body really needs is some hydration. Take a trip to the break room and refill your water bottle.

We’ve all heard a million times that drinking plenty of water is good for our bodies. But researchers also say it’s good for the mind. Faculty at Vanderbilt University Medical Center found that plain water increases alertness and energy.

4. Get up from your desk during the afternoon slump.

afternoon slump

Depending on your environment and your role, you may already do a lot of walking throughout the day. However, if the afternoon hours are when you sit down to concentrate, don’t underestimate the power of a quick lap through the halls or around the playground.

Researchers at the University of Georgia found that low- to moderate-intensity exercise can give you an energy boost. This quick bout of exercise can improve your mood as well.

“When people feel tired at the end of the day, most choose sedentary pastimes like watching TV, reading, snacking, or drinking a tasty beverage that they think will refresh them,” says Rod Dishman, professor of kinesiology and one of the study’s coauthors. “They don’t realize that taking that first step to exercise can actually give them more energy.”

Don’t have time for a solo walk? Consider hosting a walking meeting with a staffer you’ve been meaning to catch up with, which researchers have found can boost creativity.

5. Eat the right foods.

afternoon slump

One major reason for the afternoon slump is blood sugar spikes and crashes. It’s no secret that principals are busy, but making time to eat breakfast and munch on healthy snacks throughout the day is important.

To keep your blood sugar from going haywire during a busy day at school, be sure to incorporate foods that will give you long-lasting energy. This can include muesli, brown rice, beans, fruits, fish, nuts, and stone-ground bread, according to Harvard Medical School. These low-glycemic foods can help keep your blood sugar stable. Beyond that, getting enough sleep can also help stabilize your blood sugar, so be sure to put your laptop away early and get some shut-eye.

The hours of a school leader can seem never-ending. Using these tips to fight through the afternoon slump can make some of those hours more productive and bearable.

Join the great conversations going on about school leadership in our Facebook groups at Principal Life and High School Principal Life.

Plus, check out 20+ power foods to keep you going.