Study uncovers the truth behind work stress, sleep and junk food habits

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Psychological experiences at work can shape eating habits and sleeping patterns, according to a recently published study.

Researchers from Michigan State University (MSU) found that stressful workdays lead employees 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”.

The researchers also found that sleeping patterns can have an effect on workplace experiences and consequently on eating behaviours.

Chu-Hsiang ‘Daisy’ Chang, MSU associate professor of psychology and her team, analysed 235 information technology and call-centre workers in China.

The information technology works experience high workloads and time constraints, whereas the call -centre workers dealt with rude and demanding customers on a daily basis.

The study found that in both work environments, stress was linked to negative mood, which in turn was linked to unhealthy eating.

Sleep was also found to be involved, according to the researchers.

“When workers slept better the night before, they tended to eat better when they experienced stress the next day,” said Chang.

“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”.

The researchers concluded that eating unhealthy food is used by people as a mood regulator, especially when people are trying to relieve a negative mood.

“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,” said Yihao Liu, assistant professor at the University of Illinois and co-author of the study.

“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 behaviours to be aligned with personal goals and social norms.”

Source: Journal of Applied Psychology

Title: “Eating your feelings? Testing a model of employees’ work-related stressors, sleep quality and unhealthy eating”.

Authors: Chu-Hsiang “Daisy” Chang, Yihao Liu, Jungi Shi, Jaclyn Koopmann, Yifan Song and Mo Wang

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