Popular 'Sleep With Me' podcast uses rambling bedtime stories to help people fall asleep

Drew Ackerman tells stories for a living on his podcast. But he won’t be offended if you fall asleep in the middle of an episode. In fact, he hopes you will.

That’s because Ackerman, 44, is the creator of the Sleep With Me podcast -- the show that accompanies listeners as they try to drift off to Dreamland.

In each hour-long episode, Ackerman uses a soothing, droning tone of voice to stumble his way through a bedtime story that features endless tangents to prevent people from paying too much attention. The subjects range from the pleasantly absurd, like a soap opera series based in the North Pole, to sluggish recaps of shows such as 'Game of Thrones.'

“It’s sometimes stuff I’m watching and making it boring or tangential,” Ackerman told AOL. “Or I might have a central idea, then I’ll sit down and record and … just see how it goes. I’ve gotta remember I’m just telling a bedtime story, relax myself and try to go with the flow.”

It’s a method that’s proven to be a useful sedative for many, as Sleep With Me boasts around 2.3 million monthly downloads. The podcast has become so successful Ackerman left his day job in Alameda County, California as a librarian -- a bit of irony given his current role as a storyteller.

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Never make these mistakes when sleeping
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Never make these mistakes when sleeping

1. Turning phones and screens to 'night mode.'

57% of the students said they use the "night shift" mode on their phones to reduce light intake.

Romiszewski said that all light, no matter how dim, reduces the amount of melatonin — the hormone that prepares our body for sleep — we produce. By looking at your phone at night, you are effectively fighting off your "wind-down" process, and keeping yourself awake. The same goes for television and laptop screens.

2. Falling asleep to music.

40% of students said they listen to classical or relaxing music.

Listening to music is fine as long as what you are listening to is relaxing and doesn't increase your heart rate, according to Romiszewski. But make sure you set a timer to turn the music off, otherwise you won't enter the phase of deep sleep you need to wake up refreshed.

3. Exercising before bed.

34% of those surveyed said they exercise before bed.

Exercise is a great way to tire ourselves out, but if you work out just before bed, you'll make it more difficult for your body to relax afterwards, Romiszewski said. It's best to exercise during the day, or at least a few hours before you plan on going to sleep.

4. Writing things down to clear your head.

29% of the students said they write things down to clear their heads before hitting the hay.

It's a good idea to write things down, but you should ensure you do it at least an hour before you go to bed so you can deal with any thoughts that pop up. Otherwise, you'll probably still be thinking about what you wrote when you're lying down. If you write a to-do list, Romiszewski said you should make sure it's full of achievable things.

5. Using relaxation and sleep-tracking apps before bed.

23% of students surveyed use mobile relaxation apps like Headspace, or sleep-tracking apps.

These sorts of apps are helpful, but they're not that great if you only use them at night, according to Romiszewski. To really get the benefits of meditation, you should try using them more frequently during the day. It's not a short-term fix, so you need to see using these kinds of apps as a long-term lifestyle change.

Also, apps that track your sleep probably are more trouble than they're worth. They can make you more anxious if you see that you're not getting the sleep you want.

6. "Getting ready" for bed right before you want to sleep.

Getting ready for bed can be counter-productive.

Romiszewski said putting on pyjamas, changing the sheets, and brushing your teeth can all be unhelpful when you're trying to wind down. You should get ready for bed at least an hour before you want to sleep, so you make time to relax afterwards.

7. Focusing on number of hours instead of quality of sleep.

Quality is better than quantity, and it's not all about sleep duration. In fact, Romiszewski said it's better to wait until you feel tired to go to bed, rather than worrying about what time it is. Short, unbroken sleep is more beneficial to you than more time in bed not sleeping.

8. Napping during the day.

41% of students admitted to falling asleep in lectures.

Napping during the day is a pretty bad idea. It steals away the tiredness you'll feel later on, so your body will have to build it up again before you can sleep.

To get into a healthy sleep pattern, get up at the same time every day, no matter how tired you are, according to Romiszewski. This will be hard at first if you've slept badly, but you'll be setting yourself up well for the next evening. Before too long, you'll be in a good sleep cycle, and probably find you're laying awake staring at the ceiling a lot less.

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Ackerman shares a common bond with many of his listeners and up to 50 percent of the general adult population, in that he struggles with insomnia. He’s tried several new-age solutions, from guided meditation to self-hypnosis YouTube tutorials. Some audiobooks and podcasts have occasionally provided solace, but he was just as likely to keep engaged and stay awake.

“Usually my thing is overthinking or anxiety, and none of that stuff helps me fall asleep,” Ackerman said. “Because once the sound stops, I can’t get out of my own thoughts.”

He eventually came up with the idea for Sleep With Me and started recording the show in 2013. Now, he’s considering expanding it to the stage for a live recording or perhaps even to the small screen.

Unfortunately, the man who acts as a real-life Sandman for many hasn’t yet found a consistent sleep-inducing method for himself since it’s a little distracting to listen to his own voice when trying to sleep at night. But with 650 episodes in the archives (all available for free online), Sleep With Me has helped countless people that share his problem. And although he has trouble getting to sleep at night, his show has been able to get him to drift off -- but not necessarily when he wants to.

“I used to edit it at my lunch breaks [at the library]. So I’d just eat my lunch, and it’d be a warm day and I’d be sitting there editing audio at the computer. It could be pretty tedious, and I’d fall asleep all the time,” Ackerman said. “So it has put me asleep before, just not in the right circumstances.”

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