If you know the after-hours pantry raid all too well, then a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology this week has a solution for you. Turns out, there seems to be a link between work stress, junk food and a good night's sleep.

Findings by Michigan State University have found that the more stressful your work life is, the more your negative feelings will rear their ugly head in the form of a  late-night binge session, "We found that employees who have a stressful workday tend to bring their negative feelings from the workplace to the dinner table," said Chu-Hsiang "Daisy" Chang, MSU associate professor of psychology and study co-author. "[As] manifested in eating more than usual and opting for more junk food instead of healthy food."

Sounds familiar? Well, here's where it gets interesting. The findings also showed that the solution is in your quality of sleep. "However, another key finding showed how sleep helped people deal with their stressful eating after work," Chang added. "When workers slept better the night before, they tended to eat better when they experienced stress the next day."  

Looking at a total of 235 workers in China, the findings came from two studies, one that looked at how employees in the IT sector dealt with a high workload (the kind where there are never enough hours in a day) on a regular basis and another that involved call-centre workers dealing with irritable customers. Both these groups of subjects endured constant negativity, and as such, a direct link between this workday stress and unhealthy eating in the evening was found.

"First, eating is sometimes used as an activity to relieve and regulate one's negative mood, because individuals instinctively avoid aversive feelings and approach desire feelings," said Yihao Liu, co-author and assistant professor at the University of Illinois. "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."

The solution? "A good night's sleep can make workers replenished and feel vigorous again," offered Chang. "Which may make them better able to deal with stress at work the next day and less vulnerable to unhealthy eating." Tell your Mum science says she was right: stress less and sleep more. Which is easy if you don't have that insomnia genes they found last week...  

Eating your feelings? A new study has found out why