Drew Ackerman is in his early 40s, lives in Oakland, works as a librarian, and has a side gig telling bedtime stories to adults. He hosts Sleep with Me, a podcast that, according to Ackerman’s own tagline, consists of “a lulling, droning, boring bedtime story to distract your racing mind.” Narrated by Ackerman’s alter ego Dearest Scooter–essentially a slower-talking, easily distracted version of himself–Sleep with Me works because its host spins yarns just engaging enough to keep the listener entertained, but pleasantly mundane enough that they don’t feel pressure not to fall asleep while listening to them. In previous episodes he’s tried to learn Spanish through offering recaps of a Colombian remake of Breaking Bad, created a replacement Santa Claus named Roberta, and told a 19-part story about nuns in space called “Nuns in Space.” To get a sense of Ackerman’s storytelling style, think of a combination of the free-associative warmth of Garrison Keillor’s "News from Lake Wobegon," crossed with the sci-fi goofiness of Mystery Science Theater 3000, tempered with a few shots of NyQuil.
It turns out that Ackerman also has plenty of thoughts on breakfast–the meal that helps rouse people from the slumber that Sleep with Me helps tens of thousands of people achieve each night. Speaking over the phone on his commute back from his day job, Ackerman discussed the unlikely success of his podcast, the importance of having a routine both at night and in the morning, and his recipe for what he calls “the most lazy bread.”
Extra Crispy: What’d you have for breakfast this morning?
Drew Ackerman: It’s funny, I have the most boring breakfasts. I had eggs, sautéed spinach, and a bagel. Just incredibly boring.
I had a gross breakfast this morning actually—hash browns topped with cheesesteak from Waffle House.
Holy moly! That sounds crazy.
Do you make any specialty breakfast dishes?
I have this bread I make for breakfast that I’m pretty proud of–that’s normally what I have in my boring breakfast. It’s based on that no-knead bread that was big from a few years ago. It’s literally the most lazy bread. I’ll put 250 grams of white flour and 250 grams of whatever grain—usually instant oatmeal or whatever stuff I have that might be halfway healthy—and then you put two teaspoons of salt, a quarter teaspoon of yeast, 355 grams of water, mix it together and cover the bowl. I just leave it through the next day at work. Then it rises, I rip it into rolls, and bake it. It’s not terrible.
Your podcast helps a lot of people ease out of their day. What do you think the best way to ease into the day is?
I hate mornings so much! I like to move so slow in the morning. I drink a lot of coffee to get going. I’ve experimented with different routines since I started doing the podcast. There are all these theories about how your morning routine—journaling, writing, meditation, working out, whatever your preference—is extra sleep, so I think it’s good to have a little selfish time. Morning routines are hard but having something to start your day off positively that allows you to accept that mornings suck can really help. It’s one of those weird things where if you do it constantly it works.
How has doing the podcast changed your outlook on breakfast?
It’s definitely a place doing the podcast has influenced me. A couple years ago I’d eat whatever, maybe not eat breakfast, but with the podcast I’m always trying to be open-minded about routines and stuff so I can relate to my audience. When I was reading about routines, I saw someone had written that the best way to do breakfast was to pick something that’s boring and healthy, eat it every day, and don’t think about it. I think before the podcast I would have been resistant to that, but if it’s a routine that works I’m just like, I’ll do it.
So I’m guessing you don’t drink coffee as you record the podcast?
No, I try to stop drinking coffee before 11. If I’ve broken that rule or it’s a weekend and I’ve had coffee before recording, I’ll get emails from people who say I’m way too charged up or that I need to slow down. Sometimes I’ll acknowledge in the intro, “I’ve just had four Coca-Colas and feel a little wired right now.” Generally I like being a little calmer and in a less frantic headspace when I record the podcast.
How do you determine exactly how boring your stories need to be? In every episode you mention that there’s no pressure to pay attention, but I find myself following along until I’m not anymore because I’m asleep.
Once I’d been doing the podcast for a while I got a sense of what works and what doesn’t. The good thing is the episodes aren’t live, which gives me an opportunity to listen to them. Other times, listeners will tell me if I’m talking too fast or sound overexcited. During one episode of "Nuns in Space," I started talking about The Most Dangerous Game. After it came out, I heard from people that even using those words planted dark seeds in their minds. I’m obsessive—I’m always trying to figure out what I should be talking about, if I’m talking about myself in the third person too much, or if whatever I’m talking about is getting old. I think one of the things about the podcast is I like it to feel familiar, but different enough that you don’t get used to it.
Have you found that people look to you as something of a sleep expert at this point?
I think the podcast has put me in a curious position, because I’m not an expert but I straddle this line where I’m like a middleman. There are all these people who can’t sleep, there’s this whole industry about sleep, and as I’ve learned and talked to people more, it’s put me in a position to work on my ability to empathize with people. I’ve learned that sleep is this baffling thing where there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, and I’ve heard from all these different people that are dealing with things keeping them awake. Even when I started I didn’t know I’d learn people’s stories about why they can’t sleep. They’re all very human things—people losing loved ones, or dealing with chronic pain issues. A lot of times I find that’s all the listeners want from me, to feel like I hear what they’re saying. That’s a role I’m comfortable with as opposed to being an authority on sleep–that seems scary!
It definitely puts me in a calmer place while managing to maintain this bedrock of silliness.
That’s one of the things that led me to make the podcast—everything like guided meditation and stuff is always so serious. I always felt like the goofiness was missing. Adults need silly stuff to fall asleep to too, not just kids.
Last question–what’s the best hangover cure?
Hoof! When I lived in New York I used to drink Lucozade—it’s like Gatorade with bubbles and caffeine. Lucozade with anything greasy—hash browns, bacon. Then generic pedialyte if you’re desperate and the hangover is unbelievably awful.