Sleep eating syndrome: My recovery

By Michelle Zirkle



How many sheep does one need to count before falling asleep or, in my case, how many spoons of peanut butter does one need to consume? Insomnia is a public health problem that plagues up to 70 million people in the United States, and I struggled with the condition for over a year. Popcorn bags, half-eaten protein bars and crackers are a few of the snacks I’ve woken to find scattered in bed with me. I’ve even woken with a yogurt-stained spoon in my hand.

The taste, the texture, of peanut butter particularly, called to me in my sleep and lured me to the kitchen. I’d wake and head straight for the magic jar of Jiffy. Even when I avoided the nut butter aisle at the market, I couldn’t escape the signal it sent out like a beacon from the kitchen of every friend and family member with whom I’d spend the night.

Nocturnal eating hadn’t always been a part of my nighttime routine, but for over a year it controlled me. Every evening I’d set my intention to not get out of bed, not even to relieve my bladder, but inevitably find myself pouring walnuts into the jar of creamy peanut butter and indulging my palette.

The more I fought the feeling of hunger, the more I ate. Many nights I was up and eating seven and eight times. The cycle was exasperating.

I diagnosed myself with Sleep Eating Syndrome and treated my disorder naturally with melatonin which lent relief for a few nights, but the effectiveness was short-lived.

I knew there had to be something in the peanut butter that I was craving. Upon researching the topic, I was surprised to find numerous support groups for people who were addicted to peanut butter—people who spread the creamy goodness onto everything from eggs to cookies— even people who substituted peanut butter for salsa on their corn chips.

So, I set a protocol for determining whether I should eat in the night. Upon first awakening, I’d place my right hand on my belly and ask myself if I truly felt hungry. Regardless whether the answer was yes or no, I took a deep breath and made myself lie in bed for three minutes breathing and repeating, “I am sleepy and full of love.”

The frequency of my waking remained constant, but the amount of times I would eat decreased to an average of two or three times a night. Moderate success, but I wanted full recovery.

I scoured medical sites looking for the missing link. There had to be something in the peanut butter that my body needed, or I wouldn’t be so hooked on it. When I found out the amino acid L-tryptophan was a key nutrient, I began taking an L-tryptophan supplement and, not only did my cravings subside, but I felt more positive in general and started sleeping through the night for the first time in over a year.

Seems the benefits to L-tryptophan are trifold. It increases serotonin and melatonin while decreasing cortisol, all of which are conducive to a restful sleep.

I am still in the recovery phase and about once a month indulge in a 2 a.m. popcorn feeding, but I am not elbow-deep in a peanut butter jar. A key component of my success involved

accepting my weakness for nighttime eating and allowing myself a healthy snack of celery dipped in humus should I really be hungry.

Due to a multi-faceted approach to my night-time eating disorder, I’ve reclaimed my dream time. The sleep-eat-sleep cycle taught me there is more than one remedy for much of what ails us, and when we tap into our intuition and implement mindful practices, we cure much more than the symptom. We heal our mental, spiritual and physical bodies from the inside, growing wiser, rather than more tired. Now that’s something to sleep on.


By Michelle Zirkle