We’ve all experienced insomnia at some time in our lives. Whether caused by excitement over good life events or by anxiety over bad ones, this sleep disorder can hit children, teens, adults, and the elderly. Our racing thoughts about an impending wedding (or divorce), vacation, cross-country move, new job (or the loss of one), or approaching exams can keep us awake long after we’ve gone to bed or keep us from falling back asleep after we wake in the night. Many life events can trigger short-term or “acute” insomnia, as can common illnesses or other disorders and diseases. Colds and sinus infections can cause insomnia; migraine, asthma, arthritis, heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, and Parkinson’s are all known to cause short bouts or extended periods of sleeplessness. Both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications can bring on this sleep disorder, though not necessarily for everyone: antihistamines, decongestants, anti-smoking aids, SSRIs for depression, and drugs to treat or control ADHD have all been known to trigger insomnia. Herbal remedies such as St. John’s Wort or ginseng can, for some users, interrupt or prevent sleep.
In both men and women, trauma, whether physical or emotional, can have lifetime negative health effects, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and insomnia, while childhood trauma, including divorce or sexual abuse, contribute to insomnia in childhood and adulthood. Even the blue light in our computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets, and flat-screen televisions has been found to cause insomnia when the devices are used too close to bedtime (or in the middle of the night upon awakening) because, though any light can suppress the hormone melatonin, involved in circadian rhythms of waking and sleeping, blue light suppresses melatonin more powerfully.
Apparently, the brain has its own, mutually exclusive, wake and sleep cycles: when one cycle is “on,” the other is “off.” Researchers are trying to determine whether insomnia may be due to the brain itself not being able to “stop being awake.” Since both the quantity and quality of sleep affects our health, and since insomnia can lead to “decreased quality of life, increased rates of depression, and even increased risk of heart disease,” insomnia, especially when it becomes chronic, should not be dismissed. Chronic insomnia, medically defined as an inability to fall or stay asleep for at least three nights a week for three months or longer, is not just extremely unpleasant: it’s dangerous to our mental and physical well-being.
As a survivor of childhood trauma, including sexual abuse and rape, I’ve suffered from insomnia from the time I was three years old. The insomnia worsened a few years ago, however, when I was taken off a class of drugs I’d been taking for complex PTSD and panic disorder: benzodiazepines, which had been deemed potentially dangerous for anyone over age 50. While withdrawing from the medication, I was literally not sleeping at all, day or night. In the past, prescription sleeping pills had worsened my insomnia, and my usual herbal sleep aid, valerian, wasn’t helping, even when I doubled and then tripled the dose. Desperate and fearing for my mental and physical health, I turned to the Internet, where, to my absolute astonishment, I found relief for my insomnia, the strangest relief I ever could have imagined: Drew Ackerman’s Sleep with Me Podcast.
Drew Ackerman, a life-time insomniac, has dedicated himself to helping fellow insomniacs fall asleep by telling “ingeniously boring bedtime stories,” causing plenty of adults, kids, and pets to fall asleep. Of course, that means you may not ever hear an entire story, but because Drew is a writer, and a good one, he makes each episode, as disjointed and haywire as it might seem, feel complete. That way, if you really can’t fall asleep some night, as happens to me during a migraine, for instance, Drew is there “to keep you company in the deep, dark night,” as he often assures you in the episode introductions.
Each Sleep with Me Podcast episode begins with an introduction, where Drew explains that you don’t really have to listen to him and that it’s perfectly all right if you fall asleep while he’s talking, and then he usually wanders off onto some tangent or other topic, just so you begin to wonder what he’s talking about… if you’re still awake. After 7-15 minutes of an introduction that is often as entertaining as the story which follows, Drew, performing as “Scooter,” tells a bedtime story, which lasts about 45 minutes, making each podcast episode approximately an hour long. “Your goal is not to get your listeners to stay with you to the finish,” Drew told The New York Times: “[Your goal] is to lose them [to sleep] along the way.” It’s this combination of slow, lulling delivery, seemingly pointless introductions, and rambling stories that make Sleep with Me Podcast such a success with its listeners, who download episodes about 3 million times each month.
Most of the Sleep with Me Podcast episodes feature original stories written or improvised by Drew. To stay creatively motivated, Drew writes and tells various types of stories, some of which are developed into multi-episode series, like After the Glass Slipper, about Cinderella’s stepmother Agatha after Cinderella’s marriage to Prince Charming; Big Farm in the Sky PI, about a private investigator, Simon, working to solve mysteries in the afterlife; and SuperDull, about a group of superheroes sitting around waiting for their chance to save the earth whenever its greatest hour of need arrives.* (Links to the episodes mentioned here appear at the end of the article, for your reading ease.) Though some of the original series are comprised of multiple episodes, each episode of any series is independent: you don’t have to know any of the previous sections of a story to understand — and be put to sleep — by any current episode. And really, since the point of this wildly popular podcast is to make you fall asleep, it probably helps if you don’t know what happened to any of the characters in previous episodes.
Some episodes of “the podcast that puts you to sleep” are stand-alone stories, improvised stories based the social media trends, or re-caps of movies or television shows. During an episode of Sleep with Me Podcast, Drew has been known to open games and try to figure out how to play them without reading the instructions,* give you the entire chronicle of seltzer / sparkling water,* and tell you all about the history, the rides, and the food of the New York State Fair.*
In his Real Time Recipes,* which are among my favorites, Drew metaphorically walks you through grocery-shopping for all the items necessary to make the meal, and then talks you through preparing the meal. In his on-location* episodes, Drew talks while he’s actually walking around some public place (he has permission to record there). Initially, when I listened to these, the ambient sounds, though faint, prevented me from sleeping. Then I noticed I was waking up after having been asleep for a few hours despite any faint ambient noise. Now I love the on-location episodes, if only because Drew doesn’t perform these as Scooter: he simply tells us what’s going on as he roams around. Guided Meditations* are some of the most sleep-inducing episodes, if only because Drew slows his sleepy delivery even more than usual, and these are among the most popular episodes.
Drew sometimes reveals some personal details about his life that were painful or especially exciting for him, and these episodes are some of the most endearing. You might think that listening to someone talk about his personal life and some of its painful events would keep you awake, but, because Drew’s delivery makes you fall asleep, I’ve often had to listen to these episodes several times to hear the personal information (and Drew sometimes hides these tidbits in stories that don’t seem to be autobiographical.)* And in case the changing seasons or the holidays give you insomnia, Drew has plenty of Halloween* and Christmas* episodes, too.
Some of the Drew’s bedtime stories are suitable-for-all-ages recaps of television dramas*. Though the shows themselves might deal with adult topics or include violent scenes, Drew soothes them all into all-age-appropriate bedtime tales. Of all the television series that have been recapped on Sleep with Me, I have only seen Game of Thrones, though I’ve happily been “bored” to sweet dreams by all of Drew’s recap-podcasts, including any episode of Game of Thrones / Game of Drones,* Breaking Bad, Star Trek: The Next Generation,* and Dr. Who.*
Drew has many stellar stand-alone episodes* that make me sleep better than any prescription or natural sleep aid ever did. I wish I could tell you what happened to the residents of the Lost Village when they discovered that the geography around their village had changed overnight,* or how to assemble a wall-bed,* but I’ve never managed to stay awake through either episode. And Sleep with Me Podcast retrospectives* cover the content of hundreds of previous episodes, if Drew can remember what they were about.
One of my absolute favorite stories is the three-part The Bear with the Comet on His Belly* which was inspired by Drew’s listeners thanking him for “curing” their chronic insomnia by making him a quilt featuring images from his original stories: the DreamQuilt, Drew calls it.
Even when a Sleep with Me story is fascinating, I can’t stay awake long enough to hear it all, and that’s one of Drew’s gifts: writing engaging stories and delivering them with a “droning” — in the best sense of the word — delivery by “Scooter” so you drift off into dreams. The first time I ever listened to a Sleep with Me Podcast episode, I didn’t even know there was a story at the end. While listening to the introduction, I found myself thinking, “How on earth am I supposed to fall asleep to something that is so interesting?” When I awoke, hours later, and realized that I had, in fact, fallen asleep, I played the episode again. I fell asleep even more quickly the second time. The next night, I put the episode on and also queued it to play a second time — and I slept longer before awaking in the night. I began queueing up 7-10 episodes at a time, so they’d play all night long. Since I live in an isolated area where the Wi-Fi connection is unreliable at best, the podcast shuts off each time my Internet connection goes down, waking me up. Now, I’ve downloaded many of my favorite episodes, rather than streaming them, so that I can queue them up to play all night long without interruption.
Sleep with Me Podcast currently has over 755 episodes, all free, partly because of advertising (only in the first minutes of each episode) but mostly because of the financial support of the show’s patrons, whom Drew calls “rebels with a cause” because we pay for a free show so that others won’t have to. I’ve been one of those “rebel” patrons for five years now, ever since I realized that, listening to SWM all night long, I was sleeping better than I ever had in my life. Patrons get ad-free versions of the shows.
You can listen to any of the Sleep with Me Podcast episodes on the SWM website or subscribe for your device: Apple Podcasts, GooglePodcasts, RadioPublic (listen on site or send to iOS or Android devices), and Spotify. You can also listen to all the Sleep with Me Podcast episodes on its YouTube Channel. (Note: Because of the limitations of podcast apps, you may not be able to scroll back far enough to find some of the earlier episodes on your phone or tablet.
Sweet dreams, my Lovelies.
• After the Glass Slipper: A Lesson in Opportunity to be like Cinderella s2e4
• Big Farm in the Sky PI: The Dog That Chased the Moon 553
• SuperDull: The Siren and the Professor 508
• Kayak Cruze 588
• Lake Ontario: Can I Call You Teri 570
• Dusk featuring Slurp and DJ Echo Bass 540
• Faux Cousteau Visits Sea Life Orlando 522
(recorded shortly after visits, not during them)
• On Summer’s Horseback 594
• La Brea Tar Pits (534