Job stress during the day can lead to overeating and unhealthy food choices at night, but there could be a buffer to this harmful pattern…

Research has found that a good night’s sleep can serve as a protecting factor between job stress and unhealthy eating in the evening.

The job stress and junk food link

“We found that employees who have a stressful workday tend to bring their negative feelings from the workplace to the dinner table, as manifested in eating more than usual and opting for more junk food instead of healthy food,” says Chu-Hsiang “Daisy” Chang, Michigan State University (MSU) associate professor of psychology and study co-author.

“However, another key finding showed how sleep helped people deal with their stressful eating after work. When workers slept better the night before, they tended to eat better when they experienced stress the next day.”

Working under stress

The research involved two studies of 235 total workers:

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  • Heavy workloads – One study dealt with IT employees who regularly experience high workload and feel like there is not enough time in the workday.
  • Rude customers – The second study involved call-centre workers who often deal with rude and demanding customers.

In both cases, workday stress was linked to employees’ negative mood while on the job, which in turn was linked to unhealthy eating in the evening, says Yihao Liu, co-author and assistant professor at the University of Illinois.

When workers slept better the night before, they tended to eat better when they experienced stress the next day

How stress drives overeating

The study proposed two potential explanations,

  • Eating is sometimes used to relieve and regulate one’s negative mood, because individuals instinctually avoid aversive feelings.
  • 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 behaviours

All in a good night’s sleep

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

Source: Michigan State University via

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