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Bad news: Late-night snacking leads to lower work performance the next day

Ugh, those munchies bite you back where it counts.

Bad news: Late-night snacking leads to lower work performance the next day
[Photo: rawpixel]

Here’s something to tell yourself when you reach for that 11 p.m. pint of whatever: This pint will hurt my job performance tomorrow. And it will, says a new study in the Journal of Applied Psychology out of North Carolina State University.

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Key findings: Yes, crappy eating at home leads to crappy job performance at work the following day.

Researchers tracked the food and drink intake of 97 employees for 10 days, alongside job performance reports. Those who ate unhealthfully in the evening and night—”unhealthy” is defined here as participants who felt they’d consumed too much food, drink, or junk food—were likely to report emotional strain in the morning, such as feelings of stress and shame, alongside physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, and diarrhea.

Not surprisingly, this combination of “wow my stomach hurts” and “I’m such an idiot for downing that pint” does not bode well for the workday.

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At work, the overeaters were less helpful to teammates, as well as more withdrawn, avoiding work-related situations—despite being at work. “The big takeaway here is that we now know unhealthy eating can have almost immediate effects on workplace performance,” said coauthor Seonghee “Sophia” Cho, an assistant professor of psychology at North Carolina State University, in a statement. “It is relatively established that other health-related behaviors, such as sleep and exercise, affect our work. But nobody had looked at the short-term effects of unhealthy eating.”

This study is the first of what will be many forays into the topic. Next up, Cho and her collaborator plan to parse impacts of daytime eating, as well as tease out potential effects of junk food, sugar, and caffeine on work, some of which may well be positive (coping). She suggests that organizations do what they can to help employees make healthy choices—for instance, through on-site meals.

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