Get a good night's sleep and junk food may have less appeal at the end of a tough day.
That's the suggestion of a study published online recently in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
"We found that employees who have a stressful workday tend to bring their negative feelings from the workplace to the dinner table," said study co-author Chu-Hsiang (Daisy) Chang, of Michigan State University.
That means they eat more than usual and opt for more junk food instead of healthy food, said Chang, an associate professor of psychology.
"However, another key finding showed how sleep helped people deal with their stressful eating after work," Chang noted. "When workers slept better the night before, they tended to eat better when they experienced stress the next day."
The findings stem from two studies involving a total of 235 men and women in China.
Participants in one study were described as "information-technology employees" with demanding, high-stress jobs. The second study enlisted call-center workers exposed to the continuous stress of serving demanding customers.
In both cases, stress was linked to the onset of negative thinking. And that mindset was then found to be associated with a higher risk for unhealthy eating at night.
As to why, the researchers suggested that stress can undercut self-control while also increasing the desire to do something -- such as eating -- to relieve or avoid bad feelings.
But those who slept well before heading to work were less likely to eat poorly at night, the researchers said.
"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," Chang said in a journal news release.
She added that the findings should encourage employers to promote the benefits of routinely getting good sleep.