Meet Dr. Jessica Shepherd, the OB/GYN, CEO, and founder of Sanctum Med + Wellness, an online women’s health forum that focuses on addressing taboo topics in a comfortable setting. If you’re thinking… ”she looks SO familiar, I must know her from somewhere”...you’d be right. Dr. Shepherd is a regular expert on The Today Show, Dr. Oz, Steve Harvey, CBS News, and FOX News, and has contributed everywhere from Women’s Day to Women’s Health, Self to Family Circle.

We caught up with Dr. Shepherd to hear about her experience trying Proper—she’s a big fan of Core Sleep and has also tried sleep coaching!—as well as her thoughts on the state of the sleep industry, the biggest sleep myths she encounters, and where she hopes sleep wellness will be in the next 5-10 years.

What are the most common sleep myths you hear?

People don’t make the link between sleep and health benefits—specifically just how important sleep is to longevity and overall well-being. We do know that things like heart attacks, hypertension, and strokes later on in life are associated with those who don’t get enough sleep, but it’s not tangible. People can’t see that effect since it’s something in the future. So it’s different than, say, changing your diet or getting more exercise. But the relationship between health and sleep is just as significant.

The question of a healthy brain and mind—in the context of cognitive decline, dementia, and mental health—is also impacted by sleep. Sleep deficiency or chronic inadequate sleep contributes to molecular, immune, and neurological changes that, over time, can play a role in disease development and impact quality of life and life span.

And yet, in society we’re generally not told or we don’t make a strong argument for sleep in general. Just take the saying, “you can sleep when you die,” for example, which implies that you’re more successful if you don’t sleep as much because you can get more done. That couldn’t be further from the truth! Productivity does not increase when you don’t sleep. The opposite, actually. But that’s much stronger of a message than “good sleep makes you productive,” which defies our culture of not sleeping.

People don’t make the link between sleep and health benefits—specifically just how important sleep is to longevity and overall well-being.

Jessica Shepherd, MD, MBA, FACOG

What does "Proper sleep" mean to you?

For me, it’s all about awareness and has to do with being cognizant of your sleep cycle, your sleep behavior, and your overall relationship with good rest and sleep. There’s certainly some effort involved to ensure you’re getting good sleep in terms of modifying behaviors and changing habits—but it all starts with understanding what your sleep needs and goals are.

In your work, do you encounter general sleep trends or patterns for various stages of a woman's life?

Menopause is the first thing that comes to mind for me. It has to do a lot with hormonal shifts. You have a decrease in things like estrogen and testosterone, and you’ll find that changes sleep because cortisol release changes as well, which impacts how our adrenals regulate. The other thing that changes when our hormones change is core body temperature, which elicits somewhat of a difference in how we sleep and the quality of our sleep.

Another stage to mention is pregnancy. A lot of it has to do with anatomic and physiological changes since you quite literally have more of a belly. So towards the end, the sleep problems have to do with the discomfort of a larger abdomen impacting sleep quality and length. But in the beginning, what most women notice is that they need more sleep because what they’re getting isn’t necessarily proper sleep. It’s more of an exhaustion-type sleep that’s due to increases in progesterone as vital organs are developed with energy absorbed by the mother. And then, of course, when nausea is compounded on that, you have women who wake up in the middle of the night and are prevented from getting good quality sleep.

In 5-10 years, where do you hope the sleep industry will be?

I hope that we can fine-tune why sleep is helpful rather than it just being a “trend,” which is why I’m happy Proper is based in the science-backed health benefits of sleep. We’re definitely getting better with clinical studies and have more that speak to how sleep impacts overall functioning, but I hope it doesn’t remain at the same high, scholarly level. It needs to disseminate to everyone so more people understand why they should improve their sleep health and how exactly to do it.

Speaking of Proper, what first got you interested in it?

My initial interest in Proper was because, as a physician, I really do see sleep as a vital part of overall health. I talk to my patients about how important sleep is—how it can impact things like high blood pressure and stress—so that’s always been a very big part of my practice. So when I saw Proper, I thought it was a great way to tackle the topic. I loved how science-backed it is, too, plus the fact that, along with the supplements, you can get paired with a sleep coach. That’s all very important because one of the things we struggle with as healthcare providers and physicians is the fact that the options we have are either medications (which I don’t typically like prescribing because they can be habit-forming) and lifestyle changes (which are hard to conceptualize). It’s hard to understand why changing your routine, changing your food, or incorporating exercise is so imperative and what the outcomes of that can be. It’s harder for patients to do those small changes.

That’s not to say that Proper is “easy”—I don’t like using that word. But I have found that Proper is compatible with a lifestyle change.

Dr. Jessica Shepherd | @jessicashepherdmd

Sleep speed round with Dr. Jessica Shepherd...

  • Are you on team single pillow or double pillow?
    I used to be double pillow, but I’m now single pillow since it was hurting my neck. Due to the nature of my job as a surgeon, I spend a lot of time looking down, and two pillows were exacerbating the issue.

  • Weirdest dream you've ever had (no judgment)...GO
    I don't remember them!

  • Are you a night owl or an early bird?
    100% a night owl, although I’m trying so hard to become an early bird. I feel that I’m more productive when I can get up early and get things done before the start of the day. Or at least take time to start my day with better intentions by meditating, doing some type of exercise, or just taking a few minutes to be still. And I’m doing better at that, but at my core I’m SUCH a night owl, so mornings involve a lot of rushing. I’m trying to reverse that.

  • What IS and ISN'T allowed as part of your wind-down routine?
    I try to incorporate mindfulness when winding down—whether that’s stretching, meditation, or a breathing routine.

    What I try to avoid doing is consuming food—or a full meal, I should say—too close to bedtime. I would love it if I could also figure out how to get rid of devices before sleep, but that's been the hardest thing for me because of the nature of my work. But I could do better for sure. That’s a work in progress.

  • Give us your sleep elevator pitch!
    Prioritize sleep to feel better about your day! To change the pattern of your own thoughts. To improve cognitive function. To de-clutter and de-stress. Let your mind actually rest and relax.