Sunday's episode of "This American Life" was a great promotion, not only for the popular public-radio show but also for a recently released film.
In recent weeks, "This American Life" creator Ira Glass has been on a press junket with comedian Mike Birbiglia for a movie they made together, "Sleepwalk with Me." The plot of the film centers on Birbiglia's material in his one-man show of the same name, a portion of which was used as the main story in "This American Life" Sunday.
Titled "Fear of Sleep," the hourlong episode focused on just that phobia, with stories from "This American Life" regulars Nancy Updike, Robyn Semien, and Seth Lind, as well as Joel Lovell.
"Sleepwalk with Me" is about a comedian whose act gets funnier as his life gets tougher, according to Entertainment Weekly. Based on the story Birbiglia told in "Fear of Sleep," that scenario isn't hard to imagine. The film opened in select theaters this weekend, more information about it is available at SleepwalkMovie.com.
"I'm the hulk, I'm the hulk, I'm the hulk," Birbiglia said while telling the story on the radio. (You can find the film's trailer below.)
Later in the show, an anonymous mother fesses up to her daughter about finding a cockroach in her ear because the two live in an apartment with so many insects. The critter section of the show surely made some listeners squeamish, especially when Glass pointed out how one apartment building in Brooklyn was so full of bugs that it was obvious to anyone walking down the street.
"This July at 349 Saint John's Place in Brooklyn, you would be able to tell that the bedbugs had returned by the amount of furniture being thrown out on the curb," Glass said. "If you walked down the block, you'd see mattresses and bookcases spray-painted with the words 'Bed Bugs -- Do Not Use' in big letters to warn off neighbors who might think of taking the stuff home."
One mom even said she felt like "the sheets were crawling. ... The process of going back to sleep is full of thoughts of the bugs coming." That was before the same woman found what she described as a "burgeoning bedbug colony" inside a couch cushion.
The "Fear of Sleep" episode was originally broadcast in 2008, so it's telling that Joel Lovell's story about insomnia speculated that one of the reasons for his trouble sleeping was that he spent too much time on the computer and watching TV before going to bed. Researchers have found that excessive TV watching, as well as too much computer and cellphone use, negatively affects a person's mental health, most notably because of a lack of sleep.
Perhaps the most relatable part of the show was Seth Lind's story about having trouble sleeping for two years because of a horror movie. As a 6-year-old Lind watched "The Shining" and dreaded going to bed every night because the images from the film just would not go out of his mind. Lind's problem is hardly exclusive, a simple Google search for "can't sleep because of The Shining" returns more than 22 million results.
The story Glass employs to open and close the show is about being physically terrified to sleep, a problem people generally have after traumatic experiences, according to WebMD.
"You're cornered, you're a trapped animal," one person interviewed for the show said. "Whose sweating and waiting for its head to be chopped off. It's a very primitive feeling. You have to flee from this thing that's happening to you, but there's nowhere you can flee and understanding at the same time that what you're trying to run away from is the complete cessation of you."