The good news? A new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology offers hope.

By Rebekah Lowin
Updated June 23, 2017
junk food packaging
Credit: © AntonMatveev / Getty Images

If you're stressed at work, a bad nail-biting habit might be the least of your worries. Unhappiness in the workplace is an enormous contributing factor to overeating, and it's also the reason many people make "unhealthy food choices" when it comes time for dinner.

But according to a new study out of Michigan State University and published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, there's hope...and no, it doesn't involve quitting your job. The study recommends a full night's sleep, and concludes that better bedtime habits might be able to ward off the unfortunate side effects of severe workplace stress.

Science Daily reports that this is one of the first large-scale studies to examine the effect of workplace psychology on our eating routines.

"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," Chu-Hsiang "Daisy" Chang, MSU associate professor of psychology and study co-author, said. "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."

Two studies were involved, with 235 total workers surveyed in China. The first study surveyed stressed-out IT employees, while the second involved equally stressed call-center workers.

Yihao Liu, co-author and assistant professor at the University of Illinois, explained the dual interpretations one could glean from the study's conclusions.

"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," he stated. "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."

Citing the cyclical nature of the entire scenario, Chang added that "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."