As far back as grammar school, Drew had issues sleeping. Like most kids, school caused the most anxiety and were the primary cause of his listless nights. He’d just lay awake at night, in his bed, in the dark, waiting for sleep to just happen. It just never happened easily.
He remembers explaining the issue to his parents and asking help. They responded to the request the way a parent would a kid asking for help with a homework assignment. “Just lay there and close your eyes,” his mother and father told him, “and think about something nice.” Drew was left to figure it out alone.
He never did figure it out, and still hasn’t, but his sleepless nights led to a curiosity about sleep habits and an interest in at least helping others fall asleep.
“I’ve had several bouts of insomnia as an adult,” in the first of several audio recordings. I sent Drew questions, and assumed he’d answer in an email, but instead the 41-year-old Bay Area resident chose to record his responses in a tone similar in sound and cadence to the voice I’d been listening to every night for the week before the interview. “I just couldn’t relax and fall asleep.”
The worst part about not being able to sleep, Drew explains, is the thinking about not being able to sleep. “I’ll lay in bed and think ‘ok, just don’t think about it, relax and do to sleep.’ But once you tell yourself not to think about something you’re automatically going to think about it. It’s just this circular thing that never ends.”
He tried mediation before bed but it didn’t work. The meditation would just get him more frustrated and aggravated at a time that called for complete relaxation. “Mediation involves instructions like ‘feel your ankles relax and wiggle your toes to relax’ and then I’m thinking ‘oh man, now my ankle itches’ and I’m focusing on my ankle, and the movements, and I’m far from relaxed.
In an effort to learn exactly what triggered his own body to fall into sleep, he thought about his methods as a kid. He remembered that with a new school week on the horizon, Sunday nights were always the worst as a kid. Drew eventually discovered a radio show called Dr. Demento. “It was a comedy show. I’d listen to it while lying in bed. I loved it because Dr. Demento told these weird stories and played these ridiculous songs. The were a distraction. They caused my mind to wander. Within minutes, I was out cold.
Another natural sleep remedy, when the good doctor just couldn’t provide relief, was a game he played with his brother Carl.
“I’m the oldest of six kids, five boys, and I’ve always shared a room with at least one of my brothers. My brother Carl and I shared a room and one night I just made up this game where we tell boring stories until one, or both of us, fell asleep. I’d just make up these long, boring rambling stories that went on and on but never really went anywhere as far as a plot. I did a lot of creative writing as kid. I wrote some stuff that I didn’t think was very good. I’d just say it out loud in the dark.
Drew still does creative writing, usually before bed, and thought up the idea to recreate the game he dreamed up in his bedroom and make it a podcast. He launched Sleep With Me in early 2014.
Even though it seems like Drew is rambling off the top of his head, there is a method to his process. He doesn’t script anything out but he’ll usually outline. He does three new episodes every week, each done in a different style. Sunday nights are the TV show podcast. He’ll just ramble on about a popular show or shows. Tuesday night shows are about trending or world and he’ll make up a story based on the popular topic of the day.
Most shows are just a guy and his questions about life. “I like going on tangents with things,” Drew divulges, “and most of the dialogue comes from my own odd curiosity. For example, I once thought about button fly jeans. I started to wonder about the history of button fly jeans and what’s the point of them? So I did some research and found out the origins and history and the inventor and it’s incredibly interesting stuff though not exactly the most exciting topic. So it’s perfect for the podcast.”
The incoherent sentences that seem to make sense, but don’t actually, are often elongated by “umms” and “ohhs” and a slight stumble over certain words. The stops and starts are actually all part of the experience, not done specifically, but done enough to make each topic sound like Drew’s thinking about it all for the first time and muttering whatever comes to mind.
Drew has zero background in sleep studies, insomnia or mental health. He just couldn’t fall asleep and figured millions of other people probably have the same issue.
“It’s a form of paradoxical hypnosis or confusion,” explained Dr. Diane Roberts-Stoler, a neuropsychologist and board certified health psychologist. “It was developed by Dr. Milton Erickson.” Erickson form of hypnosis involved saying things to a patient that, on the surface, seemed logically contradictory. It would reduce anxiety and cause relaxation, putting patients in a sleep-like state that wasn’t quite sleep, more like a trance.
What Drew is doing in his podcast is actually hypnotizing people to a certain point where they have no choice but to relax and fall asleep.
“I’m not sure it works for everyone,” Drew admitted, “but it works for a certain subset of people. Especially people who don’t find me annoying. I’m not for everybody.” Drew is aware of the power of his podcast because of the immense positive feedback he’s received. I’m one of the thankful. I emailed to express my gratitude for Sleep With Me. A long time suffer from sleepless nights, I stumbled across Drew’s podcast in the early mornings hours, popped it on and was out within minutes.
“At first, I didn’t think anyone was listening. Then I’d get a response here or there about a show. Eventually, as the show got more popular, I got more feedback. Like I learned to never talk about spiders or snakes on the podcast, or really nothing that would scare people, especially as they’re trying to fall asleep. I never would have thought of that if it wasn’t pointed out.
Drew is now 314 episodes deep and doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon. He spends his days working a real job — coincidentally in a library where many people go to sleep — and his nights whispering incoherent fiction into a microphone in the hopes that his words are boring enough to put people to sleep but interesting enough to come back and download more episodes.
“I’m actually laying awake at night thinking about a podcast meant to put people to sleep,” Drew concludes in the final recording. “and yes, I see the irony in that.”
Chris Illuminati is a senior editor with BroBible. Read more of his work here.