Today’s post is about sleep optimization and more specifically the Oura sleep detecting ring. Oura is a piece of health tech wearable and it has been one of the best health tracking tools for me so I wanted to tell a bit about my user experiences with Oura.
What is Oura?
What is Oura exatly? Oura is a beautifully designed ring and a wearable. It is a piece of health technology with 3 sensors that measures your:
- Total Sleep Time
- Time Sleep Efficiency
- REM Sleep
- Deep Sleep
- Sleep Onset Latency
- Circadian Alignment
- Previous Night Sleep
- Sleep Balance
- Previous Day Activity
- Body Temperature
- Heart Rate
- Calories Burned
In a reliability test from 2017, where Oura was compared to the gold standard of sleep measurement (polysomnography), Oura had high correlations in sleep time, sleep latency onset and wake after sleep onset and detecting sleep (detection of sleep compared to PSG r= 0.96) (R)
Oura can help you to optimize your sleep
After starting using Oura I have gained insights, especially in two areas: (1) how to improve the quality of my sleep and how to (2) align my sleep according to my circadian rhythm. This has led to positive changes in my sleep behavior.
Prior to Oura, I had no insights into the quality of my sleep. In other words, I might have spent 8 hours in bed “sleeping” but still felt tired to wake up. After I started tracking my sleep with Oura, I started to see the difference in what I think was happening during the night and what was actually happening. For example, often after “8 hours of sleep” the data showed that in fact, I only spent 6,5 hours in sleep. The sleeping time was reduced by the time it took me to fall asleep (i.e. Sleep Onset Latency – sometimes even 20 minutes) and some awake time during the night in between sleep (sometimes even 1 hour).
This has been highly valuable insight for me since after some time (now a bit over a year) of using Oura, I have learned what will jeopardize my sleep quality and what can improve it.
These insights really helped me to plan my evenings better and use other lifestyle tools to improve my sleep. For example taking enough time to relax and unwind after work, blocking blue light before bed, and eating and avoiding certain foods in the night. If you want to learn more; read my post where I list 30 tools for better sleep.
Improving sleep quality
Another really important benefit for me is to see understand the trends of the amount of REM and deep sleep I get.
I have noticed that certain foods and activities can have a negative effect on my deep sleep. For example, stimulants, alcohol, sauna, and intensive sports before bed will reduce the amount of deep sleep that I get during the night. On the contrary, a deep sleep meditation or relaxing activities like listening calm music, meditation or yin yoga, always seems to increase my deep sleep.
Here I would like to note that that Oura has been shown to underestimated deep sleep by about 20 min, and overestimated REM sleep by about 17 min (R). Nevertheless, this is really normal to wearables and Oura is one of the best sleep detecting rings in the market at the moment.
Aligning bed timing with the circadian rhythm
Based on the sleep patterns, nighttime HRV and HR and body temperature Oura tells you what is your optimal time to go to sleep. This changes occasionally depending on your own behaviors.
I have also noticed that when I go to bed after my optimal bedtime, I will still wake up around 6 because my biological rhythm is aligned in that way. Oura shows a spike in my HR every morning at that time, which indicates that my cortisol levels naturally rise in the early morning. Whereas I consider myself to be incredibly lucky to be a morning person, I also know that staying up too late at night puts my good quality night sleep in risk.
Even if I stayed up late and would be able to sleep a bit longer during the morning, I normally don’t get much deep or REM sleep anymore, as shown in the data.
Thus, Oura has helped me to realize the importance of following my natural circadian rythm and designing my days so that I can go to bed early enough.
I also like to look at my recovery score every day. That will tell me if I can push myself a bit harder during the day (for example with exercise or studies) or if I should take it easier.
Sometimes, when I don’t feel quite right, I can use the data to see if whether the lack of energy is due to low quality sleep or for example due to the fact that my body is fighting against inflammation.
A good example of this is just a few weeks back when I woke up in the middle of the night feeling very sick.
In the morning, I noticed (from Oura, you can see the data below) that my body temperature was elevated, that my HRV had dropped way low and my night time HR was over 10 bpm higher than average.
From that data, I was able to interpret that I have an inflammation in my body and I should rest and take it easy for the day. In the evening I became really sick and was actually having a viral infection for 3 days, so Oura helped me to anticipate and prepare for that.
In this situation, Oura was also useful to determine how my body was recovering from the infection.
Sleep is one of the most important tools what comes to health, positive mood, productivity, immunity, and longevity. For example sleep is linked to calory consumption and BMI (S), productivity (S), happiness and life satisfaction (S) and social relationships (S). During the night, memories consolidate and harmful toxins are removed from the brain. In addition, muscles building increases and the immune system gets boosted. (S)
I regard good quality sleep really high and Oura has been one of the best tools for me to understand and optimize my sleep. It has led me to change my sleeping habits quite dramatically for the better.
I think the only way to really understand what happens during the night is to see physiological data, observe your lifestyle, make interventions and see what improves the data and your subjective feelings. Due to measuring the sleep, I have been able to improve my sleep, HRV, recovery and self-knowledge, and I have observed similar changes from my friends who have been using Oura. It is also very fun to compare the sleep data with friends and realize how fundamentally differently our bodies work and how individualized sleep actually is.
If you have experiences in using Oura or measuring sleep, I would love to hear them, so please let me know in comments on how you measure and optimise your sleep!