雨山


Sleep With Me: A Testimonial

2020-10-07

I used to listen to a podcast called Half Hour Intern. In each episode — which usually lasted more than a half hour, despite the show's name — Blake, the host, would interview people about their career paths and how they got started doing what they love. In one interview, Blake talked to Drew Ackerman, the creator of the Sleep With Me podcast. At that point, I had listened to a lot of podcasts, but I'd never heard of a podcast that was specifically designed to help people fall asleep. I was intrigued, so I downloaded an episode of Ackerman's podcast and gave it a listen. What I heard totally defied my expectations. I was expecting a beautifully-produced tapestry of soothing music and calming meditations about reducing anxiety or letting go of the events of the day, maybe with multiple voices, maybe with sound effects, etc. But I discovered instead that the show was nothing more or less than Ackerman rambling for an hour in what seemed a completely unscripted, unfocused, goofy way. He had a scratchy, creaky voice, and there was no music (except the brief intro song). The show was so far from my expectations that I was immediately unimpressed and even a little irritated, so I deleted the episode and put the show out of my mind.

A few years passed, and life got really, really rough in 2018 for my family, as I've mentioned before. I was living in constant anxiety and stress for several months, and for the first time in my life, I was having real trouble sleeping. I decided to go looking for podcasts that might help, and Sleep With Me was mentioned everywhere I looked as being a fantastic sleep podcast. At that point, I only vaguely remembered that I'd checked out the show once before, but I was desperate to try anything, so I subscribed to it. At bedtime that night, I picked a random episode and started listening. And despite my low expectations, my anxiety ebbed away, and I fell asleep within minutes. I think I must've listened with headphones that first night because the next night, I mentioned the show to my wife. She was just about as stressed as I was, so she agreed to give it a try. The next morning, I asked her about it, and she said something like, "It was amazing! I can't believe how fast I fell asleep!"

After that, we started listening every night. And we've been listening every night for over two years now. In fact, we usually listen to multiple episodes each night. If one of us wakes up in the middle of the night, we'll start a new episode and go back to sleep (or try, at least). My daughter listens to the show every night, too! And now we support the show on Patreon in the $20 per month tier. But here's the thing: the show isn't just good at helping us fall asleep. It's so much more special than that. So, I've decided to write this post to try to describe what the show means to me and to our family. If you've never tried it but need help overcoming anxiety or going to sleep, I can't recommend this show highly enough. If you've tried it once before but didn't get much out of it the first time (as was my experience), I'd like to encourage you to try it again. But either way, I just want to tell you how awesome Drew Ackerman is.

In the show, Drew goes by "Scooter," or "Scoots" for short. And the format is roughly the same for each episode: there's an intro that lasts somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes, there's a short transition in which the episode's bedtime story premise is introduced (often by Scooter pretending to be Antonio Banderas — goofy, I know, but just listen and it'll make sense after a while), and then Scooter tells the story. In the intro, Scoots tries to make a metaphor for the podcast and riffs on a few little themes. It's rambling and calming, and the point of that section is to provide a little bit of wind-down time. Scooter mentioned in one episode that he worried that if he jumped straight into a story, then people would feel like, Oh, crap! He's already started telling the story, so I've gotta start falling asleep right now! So, the intro is there to help ease people into bedtime, to help them calm their minds and put away nagging thoughts. And then Scooter tells the bedtime story in a rambling, unfocused way.

I like the intros, and I always listen to them, but I love the bedtime stories. They're quite varied and unique. Scoots wrote a lot of them himself. For example, he has a 12-part series called "Nuns in Space," which features a character called Scooter who pilots a spaceship through a cloud of delusion while dealing with the passengers, which are the nuns from Scooter's childhood. But that's just the first season; the second season, which also has 12 parts, is called "The Stan Chronicles." Stan is a sentient freestyle soda machine AI, and the second season is about Stan's and Scooter's adventures trying to escape the cloud of delusion by improving Stan's artistic sensibilities by working their way through Julia Cameron's book The Artist's Way. There's a different 2-season series called "Big Farm in the Sky P.I.," which is about Simon, a guy who went to "the big farm in the sky," became a private investigator, and started solving cases. Another series with three seasons is called "After the Glass Slipper," and it tells the story of Cinderella and her stepmother Agatha after the events of the traditional fairy tale. (I should also point out that these stories are usually "episodically modular," by which Scoots means that you can listen to them in pretty much any order.)

But those are just the stories that Scoots has written himself (among others that I haven't mentioned)! He also tells stories called "real-time recipes" where he describes his steps as he cooks a meal. Or he watches a show (like Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and many others) and comments on it. Or he unboxes a board game. Or he tries to re-tell the plot of a childhood movie without having watched it recently. Or he reads through a Trader Joe's "Fearless Flyer" magazine. And the list goes on. And if those things sound silly or boring...well, that's exactly the point! They're just interesting enough to pull your attention away from negative thoughts that might otherwise pester you, but they're not so interesting that they hook you and keep you awake. And they're funny and light-hearted enough that they might bring a grin to your face, but you won't be laughing out loud.

All the while, he drones on in "creaky-dulcet" tones, avoids topics that might be sensitive for listeners, tells goofy jokes, meanders down pointless tangents, gets lost, circles back, and lets you know in so many words that his goal is really just to sit beside you as a friend in the "deep, dark night" while you fall asleep. If I had been tasked with designing a sleep podcast, I probably would've done what I described at the beginning: I'd have tried to use calming music and meticulously-written monologues delivered by soothing voices. But Scooter knows what I once knew as a child and what I remembered again as a parent: that what really holds many of us back from sleeping is not the lack of a polished bedtime production with music and voice actors and sound effects, but a feeling of loneliness, a wish that a caring, comforting person could sit at our bedside and just be there while we drift off.

Sometimes, Scooter explicitly describes his reasons for making the podcast. He talks about how he had trouble sleeping as a child and how funny radio shows took his mind off things and helped to draw some of the seriousness out of bedtime; and now he wants to do the same thing for other people. Most of the time, though, he doesn't need to state his mission directly for you to feel the care and kindness emanating from every second of the show. You know the warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you watch Fred Rogers or Bob Ross? I get that feeling from listening to Scoots, too. To me, he's in that same small pantheon of Best Human Beings Ever.

And that's the primary reason, I think, why the show has such a massive following. I don't have access to his analytics, but he's mentioned before that the show gets hundreds of thousands of downloads every month (and it might be in the millions now; I don't know); he's got more than 5,000 supporters on Patreon at this moment; and he's been featured in all kinds of news media outlets. And it's all because he's just such a sweet, funny, caring person. He makes a wonderful podcast, of course, but that product is merely a reflection of Drew himself.

Anyway, I could keep on like this for a while, but I'll spare you. I hope I've convinced you to give the show a shot if you haven't tried it yet and need help sleeping or calming down. Sweet dreams!