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Better sleep may help prevent work-related ‘stress eating’: study

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East Lansing, MI – Rest, work, eat reasonably, repeat. That’s the message from a recent study that found adequate sleep may help workers avoid turning to food to cope with work-related stress.

Researchers from Michigan State University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign conducted two studies, analyzing a total of 235 Chinese workers. One study focused on information technology workers and the second on call center employees. According to a June 22 press release from MSU, results showed that experiencing stress during the workday contributed to unhealthy eating in the evening – and that a good night’s sleep “can serve as a protecting factor” against the habit.

“When workers slept better the night before, they tended to eat better when they experienced stress the next day,” Chu-Hsiang Chang, study co-author and MSU associate professor of psychology, said in the release. “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.”

Yihao Liu, from U of I, discussed possible reasons that workers overeat or select junk food after experiencing stress on the job.

“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,” Liu said in the release. “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.”

The researchers suggest that employers highlight the importance of employee health management and consider offering sleep awareness training and flexible scheduling. Employers also should re-evaluate food-related job perks, which Chang said “may only serve as temporary mood-altering remedies for stressed employees.”

The study was published online in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

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