The problem with a good podcast is that it is interesting.
That is, it’s a problem if you’re an insomniac trying to lull yourself to sleep.
And that’s where “Sleep With Me” comes in. The podcast is, intentionally, as boring as possible, and it has thousands of listeners across the country.
Drew Ackerman — or “Scooter” as he calls himself on the podcast — says that on “Sleep With Me,” he plays the role of “your boring drunk friend.” Each episode opens with the “Dear Scooter” theme song, then Ackerman introduces himself (as “Scooter,” of course) and begins to talk, ceaselessly, and in the least interesting way. What does he talk about? It barely matters.
In his spinoff series, “Game of Drones,” he simply recaps the entirety of the HBO hit show. The plot of a recent episode is much more straightforward: “The episode starts with a trip to Trader Joe’s. Then we make two Super Bowl sandwiches.”
“I had tried podcasts before, listening to ‘Radiolab’ or (‘This American Life’) or whatever, but they’re generally too interesting to ignore,” says listener Andrea Grimes. “And the TV with the light and the things is not great. So as soon as there was this nice-sounding man giving me permission to ignore him — that’s all women want — I was like, ‘This is fantastic.’ I was just immediately into it.”
And yes, Grimes is being totally serious about this. So is Ackerman, who first started recording his “boring bedtime” episodes five years ago. His somnolent storytelling skills date back to his childhood.
“So I always shared a room with someone, and I can remember telling boring bedtime stories back then, when my brothers couldn’t sleep, these strange, circuitous stories,” he says. “Even when we were camping or at parks, I’d say, ‘Oh, let me make up a story.’ Always wandering, meandering stories.”
And “Sleep With Me” seems to be the first podcast of its kind in the genre of narrative sleep podcasts. There’s “peaceful noise” playlists, white noise machines, and ASMR YouTube channels. And there’s children’s bedtime storytelling podcasts, such as “We Love Bedtime Stories” by Leslie Collins — but nothing specially designed for adult insomniacs.
Nothing, that is, until “Sleep With Me.”
When the podcast began, Ackerman himself didn’t first know how to promote it. He’d tweet at people complaining about baggy eyes and tired brains, but that didn’t work. He says word of mouth among those who struggle with sleep has been the biggest force pushing his podcast.
As of January, Ackerman says, “Sleep With Me” counts 2.3 million monthly downloads. New fans also download his entire back catalogue — hundreds of episodes — to start at the very beginning.
Ackerman himself has struggled with insomnia for most of his life. As a child, he’d agonize each night about what the next school day would bring. That led to a thought pattern many insomniacs will recognize — one where you can’t fall asleep one night, you’re stressed about falling asleep the next night, and the next, and soon you’re stressed even just thinking about sleep. This is the kind of active brain that kept Ackerman awake until 4 or 5 a.m. — the “‘what does it mean to go to sleep?’ overthinking” — until he discovered comedy podcasts.
He experimented with his own podcasts, recording the same boring bedtime stories he used to tell his younger brothers. In the beginning, his listenership was almost nonexistent, but he continued posting a new podcast every night, so that his insomniac fans would have a new podcast to deter sleeplessness for a few hours more.
“My predominant problem is headspace,” Grimes says. “I am anxious, I think a lot of the day ahead, all the dumb stupid embarrassing things that just passed. All that stuff. It’s always been a bigger deal for me than any kind of physical discomfort. You can put on an eye mask or get a new pillow or wear earplugs — but until I had ‘Sleep With Me,’ there was no getting out of my headspace.”
Beyond just calming down active brains like Grimes’, “Sleep With Me” has created an entire online community of insomniacs — or rather, former insomniacs who consider Ackerman’s podcast their savior.
“It’s another goal of the podcast,” he says. “There’s this community now. Even if you can’t fall asleep when you’re listening to this podcast, I’ll at least be here for an hour telling you this silly story. I’m here while you’re going through this miserable experience.”