Timing as well as what you eat might leave you feeling sluggish when it’s time to focus.

We all know staying focused is important, but getting there is sometimes a little harder than we might like. Especially if you're working from home, staying focused and productive is crucial to make the most of your time "at work." Several habits like getting enough sleep and moving your body can set you up for success and certain foods can even help with focus. But a recent study found that some foods—particularly late-night snacks—might actually impede your day-time productivity.

A recent study in the Journal of Applied Psychology took a look at how eating patterns at night can affect the quality of your work the next day. They asked 97 full-time employees a series of questions three times a day for 10 consecutive workdays. The first set of questions were asked before work and focused on physical and emotional well-being. At the end of the workday, they asked about what they did during their workday and their productivity. Before bed, participants answered questions about their eating and drinking patterns after work. 

Their results were not entirely shocking. People who engaged in "unhealthy eating" at night reported physical problems the next day, ranging from headaches to stomachaches and diarrhea, in addition to feelings of guilt. Additionally, people who reported unhealthy eating patterns were less likely to report "helping behaviors" during the workday, such as going the extra mile and assisting their co-workers, and were more likely to avoid work-related situations (read: procrastination).

It is important to note that, for this study, "unhealthy eating" was defined by participants as eating "too much" junk food, having too much to eat or drink overall or specifically eating too many late-night snacks. The definition of what is a "junk food" and what is "too much" could vary from person to person, but the common ground was that participants who reported "unhealthy eating" felt as though they overate foods they did not consider nutritious or health-promoting. 

woman looking in a refrigerator at night
Credit: Getty Images / Moyo Studio

Bottom line

So, does this study mean you shouldn't eat anything you consider "unhealthy" after work? Not necessarily. Any healthy eating pattern has room for occasional treats and snacks, but the key is moderation and frequency. Having smaller amounts of treats, so you don't feel like you've overeaten, or having treats more occasionally (instead of every night) can help make sure it doesn't spill into how you feel and work the next day. You could also try nighttime snacks that won't make you feel overfull or sluggish, like popcorn and dried fruit with nuts. (For more, check out the best and worst late-night snacks, according to a dietitian.)

It's also important to understand why you may be eating more at night. Was your dinner satisfying enough? Do you need to add a more filling afternoon snack to your day? Would talking to a counselor about life's stressors help? Ask yourself these questions—and try out our suggestions for healthier snacking—and see if it helps boost your workday productivity.