Dr. Shippy’s Hacks For Better Sleep 

I know first-hand how hard it is to function, perform and feel your best when sleep is lacking. The years after I left my engineering career were filled with medical school, residency and having two babies!

Being a new mom is hard enough with very interrupted nights, but add long shifts at the hospital to the mix and my sleep schedule was far from consistent or ideal. It eventually took a toll and was one underlying piece in the health crisis that had me seeking new answers, which luckily I found in the field of Functional Medicine. 

Now, after practicing Functional Medicine for over 15 years, it is beyond clear to me how important sleep is, not only for myself in order to be the best doctor I can be, but for my patients to be able to heal from their own health challenges. 

When we sleep, the body performs many important functions: sleep helps us to detoxify, recover from exercise and illness, supports favorable epigenetics and increases longevity. In short, if you ever wanted a magic pill to look and feel your best, getting enough quality sleep is it. 

The problem is that so many aren’t getting the sleep their body needs. We are busy burning the candle at both ends, tapped into our screens and missing the sleep cues the body is sending. 

In this article, you will learn more about:

  • Exactly how bad sleep is in the U.S. 
  • The importance of sleep for health
  • My top 4 sleep hacks that you can begin to implement tonight

Sleep And Health

Americans aren’t great sleepers and it’s getting worse. According to the 2017 National Health Interview Survey, almost 50 percent of people have sleep problems. In addition, sleep issues greatly increased for Americans between 2013 and 2017.

Out of a sample of over 160 thousand people, healthy participants reported delays in falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep and shorter sleep durations over the study period. Authors conclude, “multiple aspects of sleep difficulties show an undesirable trajectory in the U.S. adult population.” 

This is certainly worrisome given how important sleep is for maintaining health. The effects of poor sleep are far reaching. 

Have you ever experienced a particularly poor night’s sleep and felt hungrier and more sugar cravings the next day? Or perhaps you have to rely on caffeine to stay awake?

You’re tired so your body is searching for some quick energy to help you make it through, when what you might actually need is more rest.  

There is a hormonal component as well. Poor sleep raises the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn raises blood sugar. When that blood sugar drops you are left feeling jittery, irritable and ready to grab whatever is easy and convenient to provide fast calories. This is usually in the form of refined carbohydrates, including sugar

Because of the impact sleep has on metabolism and circadian rhythm in the body, poor sleep over time is linked to obesity and insulin resistance. It raises your risk for type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases. 

In a 2013 controlled laboratory study published in Sleep, researchers made the link between sleep and weight gain, concluding that sleep restricted adults, particularly with late bedtimes, eat more calories and are susceptible to weight gain.

In the study of 225 adults, participants stayed at the Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania. They were acclimated with two baseline nights where they spent 10 or 12 hours in bed, then sleep was restricted to 4 hours in bed for 5 consecutive nights.

Results showed that during the time in the lab, the sleep restricted participants gained more weight than controls. African Americans were particularly vulnerable to weight gain, compared to Caucasians in the study and men gained more weight than women.

One reason for this was likely those who were on the sleep restricted schedule ate significantly more calories (around 550 calories more!) on the days with the delayed bedtime. Most of these additional calories were consumed at night. 

I find this study interesting because it shows how quickly sleep restriction begins to have effects on our behaviors and physiology. 

Sleep deprivation also has consequences for the brain, negatively impacting mood, cognition and motor function. These neurocognitive changes accumulate over time, and may not be fully noticed by someone as they slowly adapt to poor sleep.  

All in all, poor sleep adds a stress to the body, impacting our stress response system, hormones, metabolism, brain function and more. Given today’s world, we are already under enough stress.

Don’t let poor sleep overload your system.

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My Top 4 Sleep Hygiene Tips For Better Sleep

Sleep is an important part of self-care and one that I believe to be foundational and non-negotiable. If you have sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome or another medical condition that is impacting your sleep, you may need additional support besides what I’m going to talk about here. (Please feel free to schedule an appointment for personalized care.) 

Many of us, however, have poor sleep because of poor sleep hygiene – habits throughout the day and before bed – that affect our circadian rhythm and ability to fall and stay asleep. I’ve found implementing simple lifestyle practices and creating new routines around sleep to be incredibly powerful.

Although these might be hard at first, they are worth the effort. 

1. Get back to your natural rhythm. Nature has rhythms all around us and your body has a rhythm as well. It’s easy to get pulled off that rhythm because of communication, technology, lights and other elements of our modern life.

The first step to better sleep is getting on a regular schedule. This means going to bed around the same time each night and waking up after an appropriate amount of sleep, typically around 7 to 9 hours. Over time, it will be easy to wake up naturally, feeling rested and with energy for your day. 

While most people might feel their best sleeping from 10pm to 6am or thereabouts, there are some who are naturally early risers or night owls. Dr. Michael Breus’ book The Power of When he describes four different chronotypes including sleep patterns and when we feel the most alert and energetic.

By understanding our personal chronotype we can schedule sleep, work, exercise and our social life to optimize our personal rhythm. 

2. Upgrade your sleep environment. Here’s what I mean:

  • Get yourself a new pillow or mattress as sleeping on old ones certainly impact sleep quality. If you’re going to splurge here, do your research and opt for organic and non-toxic options. Most mattresses are treated with flame retardants and other chemicals that won’t do your health any favors. 
  • Filter your bedroom air. Indoor air pollution is often worse than being outside. Filtering your bedroom air at night is a great way to reduce your toxin exposures and support a healthy respiratory system. I’m a fan of Austin Air or IQ Air
  • Make it dark. Exposure to light at night, and particularly blue light from screens, suppresses melatonin, our sleep hormone, and makes it hard to sleep well. Try adding black out curtains or sleeping with an organic cotton or silk eye mask. If you’re on a screen before bed, try limiting this or wearing blue light blocking glasses.
  • Make it cool. Research suggests you’ll sleep better in a cool room vs. a hot one, so turn down your thermostat at night and grab an extra blanket if needed. 


3. Manage your stress. One of the biggest things I see impacting my patient’s sleep is stress. Do you feel anxious or wired as soon as your head hits the pillow? Or wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep? Stress may be playing a role and adding stress management tools to your day, and especially before bed might, be helpful.

Here are some things to try:

  • Write down your worries or to-dos before bed to get them out of your head. 
  • Read, knit or try other relaxing activities before bed.
  • Save work, emails, social media, news or anything else that might bring up stress or anxiety until the next day. 
  • Exercise is a great tool for stress management. Move strenuous exercise early in the day so it doesn’t keep you up at night. 

4. Use supplements. It sometimes takes a while to put the lifestyle pieces in place and for your body to respond in terms of consistent better sleep. While you’re doing that, or to maintain the good sleep you’re having, supplements offer gentle, effective support without the side effects of pharmaceutical sleep aids. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Magnesium – Magnesium is a relaxing mineral that helps to relax muscles, calm the brain and supports melatonin. Since most of us are deficient in magnesium, most of us will benefit from additional magnesium and before bed is a good time to take this supplement. 
  • Melatonin – Some people benefit from taking melatonin itself in order to promote restful sleep. It’s also an antioxidant and supports brain health. I often recommend an extended release version.
  • GABA and Glycine – these neurotransmitters are the main calming neurotransmitters in the body. I recommend Pure Tranquility Liquid which combines GABA and glycine with l-theanine for relaxation. 
  • Adrenal Support – supporting the adrenal glands and the HPA-axis in order to better manage stress also helps with sleep.
  • Stress Manager is a great product designed to be taken before bed in order to lower the stress hormone cortisol and promote relaxing sleep. 

By now it’s no secret that better sleep will give you better nights, better days and better health. I hope some of these tools will be helpful for you on your wellness journey.

If you have a lot of work to do on your sleep, start with one small habit or change as the catalyst for more.

As you begin to sleep more soundly and for long enough each night, notice the changes you see in how you feel the next day as far as your energy, alertness, mood, hunger and food choices.

I think you’ll be amazed by how much sleep helps you get where you want to go. 

Download my Good Night Sleep Checklist.



  1. Voiß, P., Höxtermann, M. D., Dobos, G., & Cramer, H. (2019). The use of mind-body medicine among US individuals with sleep problems: analysis of the 2017 National Health Interview Survey data. Sleep medicine, 56, 151–156. 
  2. Hisler, G. C., Muranovic, D., & Krizan, Z. (2019). Changes in sleep difficulties among the U.S. population from 2013 to 2017: results from the National Health Interview Survey. Sleep health, 5(6), 615–620. 
  3. Reutrakul, S., & Van Cauter, E. (2018). Sleep influences on obesity, insulin resistance, and risk of type 2 diabetes. Metabolism: clinical and experimental, 84, 56–66. 
  4. Spaeth, A. M., Dinges, D. F., & Goel, N. (2013). Effects of Experimental Sleep Restriction on Weight Gain, Caloric Intake, and Meal Timing in Healthy Adults. Sleep, 36(7), 981–990. 
  5. Durmer, J. S., & Dinges, D. F. (2005). Neurocognitive consequences of sleep deprivation. Seminars in neurology, 25(1), 117–129.