Study Finds Sleep Can Diminish Junk Food Binging from Work Stress

It’s common for increased work pressure to lead to unhealthy eating habits. Landing accounts, meeting report deadlines, and other various factors in the workplace can lead to an impulsive stop at the drive-thru or mindless munching on an entire bag of potato chips for dinner. While stress at work is much to blame, a new study has found there may be another culprit – sleep.

The study co-authored by Chu-Hsiang, a psychology professor at Michigan State University, found that getting a good night of sleep can lead to healthier eating choices when facing stress in the work environment. The study examined two different work environments of 235 workers in China.

The first monitored information-technology workers with a heavy workload. The second dealt with employees working in a call center who often dealt with unsatisfied customers. What the study found was that in each case there was a direct link between unhappiness in the work place and an increase in unhealthy eating habits at night.

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Yihao Liu, co-author and assistant professor at the University of Illinois, told Science Daily:

“First, eating is sometimes used as an activity to relieve and regulate one’s negative mood, because individuals instinctually avoid aversive feelings and approach desire feelings.

Second, unhealthy eating can also be a consequence of diminished self-control. When feeling stressed out by work, individuals usually experience inadequacy in exerting effective control over their cognitions and behaviors to be aligned with personal goals and social norms.”

However, they discovered that those who experienced a good night’s rest were more likely to make healthier eating decisions despite stressful work situations. Chu-Hsiang explained,

“A good night’s sleep can make workers replenished and feel vigorous again, which may make them better able to deal with stress at work the next day and less vulnerable to unhealthy eating.”

When the body lacks sleep, cognitive function and physical health are at risk. Sleep deprivation does not allow the brain to repair the body.

Rather, it causes the brain to be in an exhausted mental state effecting the performance of the entire body. Adequate sleep on the other hand prepares us to be fully alert and able to deal with daily stress better.

Getting the right amount of sleep, especially when stressed, can be difficult. Tossing and turning, the mind goes a mile a minute with negative thoughts affecting your mood, and thus your next day performance. There are a few foods, however, that can help you get to sleep. Eating foods that have more magnesium like almonds or ones that boost melatonin production like bananas can improve your quality of sleep.

While these healthier eating habits at home can help, the real issues at work need to be addressed. Improvements in the work environment need to be made in order to keep stress levels down. Chu-Hsiang suggests that food-related perks is one solution to increase mood and decrease stress.

Offering up healthy foods in the break room rather than junk foods that leave employees peaking and crashing may help see a difference. These perks, however, are only a temporary solution. The overall issues need to be addressed in order to maintain good health.