I've been having trouble falling asleep. I don't think that's out of the ordinary, in general but also right now, given the current state of the world. But my particular brand of insomnia looks like this: I stay up late each night, scrolling through TikTok with my mind racing about tomorrow's, next week's, next year's to-do lists. A general feeling of dread fill me as the clock continues to tick past what's deemed an acceptable bedtime.
During one of my nightly TikTok scrolls, though, I came across a video of a girl praising a sleep-centred podcast called Sleep With Me. It cured her insomnia, the TikToker said, and she advised those who have trouble falling asleep to check it out immediately. Was I just overly tired, or was this fate?
Of course, I swiped from TikTok to Google to look up Sleep With Me. Drew Ackerman, the creator and host, created the story-telling podcast after experiencing his own problems with insomnia as a kid. "I would turn on the radio and try to find comedy shows that were on late at night, and they never put me to sleep. They just kept me company," he tells Refinery29.
Ultimately, he hopes his podcast keeps listeners company while they're tossing and turning. But there's a twist. The stories he tells are... weird. They veer off in random directions, and are generally hard to follow. That's intentional. Ackerman didn't want his podcast to be too compelling. As user @kelseysburnerphone says in her TikTok video, "I can't sleep at night because my mind races. I can't put on a TV show or listen to music because I hyper-fixate on it and I can't fall asleep because I feel the need to pay attention to it."
The meandering stories are meant to avoid just that. "I'm almost there to just take peoples' mind off stuff so they can be comfortable and stop thinking about whatever is keeping them awake," Ackerman says. "And then ideally, they stop listening to me at some point and they fall asleep."
Back in 2016, The New Yorker called the podcast "ingeniously boring," and quoted Nitun Verma, a national spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, who described the perfect bedtime story as one that "doesn’t build upon itself," like a movie "with a lot of parallel stories that don’t connect at the end."
Kelsey called the monotone, impossible-to-fixate-on stories "literal magic," and said she'd never made it through a full episode without dozing off partway through. After hearing that, I was curious — was this the cure for my sleepless nights?
So, during an exceptionally rough night featuring the Sunday scaries, I put in my headphones and decided to give it a go, settling on an episode titled, "Boulevard of the Gymnast Dropout." I skipped past some advertisements and began to listen and was... honestly, kind of confused.
The episode kicked off with Ackerman saying, "What I’m going to attempt to do, I’m just going to attempt to do it, I do sound like, I mean I, get away any misconceptions, I know I do sound like a daring, whatever those people are, stunt performer…" It went on (and on) in a similar vein.
I'm not usually someone who hyper-fixates on anything but my own anxieties, but instead of letting myself lose the thread of what Ackerman was saying, I kept catching myself concentrating harder and harder as I tried to make sense of what I was hearing — which, maybe, is the opposite of what he intended. Some of the comments on the viral TikTok seem to have the same thoughts that I do. "This actually made me hyper-fixate way more because I was trying to make it make sense lol," one comment reads. Same lol.
But, the majority of other comments are on the same page as the original poster, agreeing with her opinion that it is, indeed, magic. "I love this podcast!!!" one commenter says. "I can never make it past the intro." Another wrote, "I also struggle with hyper-fixating on music & I LOVE the sleep with me podcast!!!"
There's no scientific reason Ackerman's podcast should work so well for so many people, says Seema Khosla, MD, the medical director of the North Dakota Center for Sleep. That said, there's no harm in trying it out, she adds. Wind-down routines in general are exceptionally important for quality sleep, and if this podcast is part of that — and working for you — then keep on listening.
She says that the podcast may simply trick people into exiting their apps, setting down their phones, and resting your mind — all good things for sleep. "I do think there's this element of, does [the podcast] encourage you to at least embrace a wind-down routine that's a little bit more robust than just closing your eyes and turning over?" she says. "We always need to make sure that our brain is primed for sleep... I like the idea of podcasts because it gets rid of the light, it allows you to close your eyes."
Of course, if Sleep With Me doesn't work for you, there's no need to force it. "It doesn't have to be a sleep-related podcast. You can find anything relaxing," Dr. Khosla says. People often like to listen to white noise, the sound of rain, or even ASMR videos, she says. "You have to personalise whatever works for you, and maybe listening to a podcast is one element of that."
Ackerman echoes that sentiment. "For me, what I try to encourage on the show is, this show can be part of your bedtime routine, but not in a prescriptive or pressure-based way," he says.
Nothing — not a podcast, a guided meditation, or even a weighted sleep mask can be the magic bullet to a perfect night's sleep, Dr. Khosla says. If you're continuing to experience insomnia and can't fall asleep night after night, she advises that you may want to reach out to your doctor for help.
So how was it, really? Just... fine. It wasn't the miracle insomnia cure I'd hoped for, but it does feel like I've added another tool to my box of things I can try when I'm having a hard time drifting off. And if anyone asked, I'd absolutely suggest turning on Sleep With Me, just to give it a try. I've read enough raving comments to believe it works for plenty of people. "Something that I joke about on the show is, maybe you don't look forward to listening to it, but you might feel neutral," Ackerman says. "It takes the dread out of bedtime, and you're like, 'Oh, at least I have that podcast guy to listen to.'"