Have you read my recent blog post about lifestyle changes I made recently? You might have wondered what that “tracker” is that I was talking about. No, it’s not a fitbit (I’m not good with bracelets) but a device called Oura ring that you can wear on any finger you choose! I bought mine as a Christmas present to myself (why not…) and have been loving it.
Why an Oura ring?
The main reason why I bought the Oura ring and not another device (and there are many!) is that I wanted help with my sleep. After talking to various colleagues in the keto/low carb community, I came to the conclusion that this was my “weak point“. It needed as much “work” as my diet needed initially to heal my haemorrhage and improve my overall health. Not only because I didn’t sleep properly for nearly 2 years with my 2nd baby. But also because I seem to be the type of person who- not always, but from time to time- need to measure and “see” something before I believe it. Especially when it’s inconvenient! And any other parent with small kids probably knows how precious those few hours are after the kids are (finally) in bed and the house is quiet. It’s tempting to stay up till 2am, I totally get it. But the backlash always comes- sooner or later.
I know that sleep is super important for overall wellbeing. In 2007, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified shift work with circadian disruption or chronodisruption as a probable human carcinogen (group 2A carcinogen). It’s interesting to note that this classification is due to the adequate evidence from animal experiments. Evidence for a carcinogenic effect in human beings is still “limited”. Still, you get the gist- sleep matters!
So, to cut a long story short, the Oura ring tracks your sleep at night and activity levels during the day to give you something called “readiness” score. I consider the readiness score like a compass: it gives me the right direction and guidance but ultimately, I still choose the exact path how I get to where I want. In other words, I definitely take my readiness score into consideration in the morning when planning my day, but sometimes this is not possible. Life takes over and I have zero flexibility. So, even if I have a low readiness score and “should” take it easy, I can’t because I’ve made plans or committed to activities that I can’t get out of. As with everything: it’s about keeping the balance and staying realistic. As long as this doesn’t happen every single day, it’s okay.
What does it track?
Inside the Oura ring, there are various different sensors that sense the arteries in your finger (similar to an oximeter). These are the most important measurements the ring takes:
- heart rate
- respiration rate (i.e. the number of breaths per minute)
- night-time body temperature
- movement and activity (not “just” exercise)
- sleep: not just whether you’re awake or asleep, but also the different stages (light/REM/deep sleep) and other factors such as sleep latency (how long it took to fall asleep).
- HRV (heart rate variability)
Some people mistakenly think that the ring can be worn instead of a heart rate monitor (like for instance “Polar”, where you wear a strap around your chest). You will not see any data on the ring itself but will have to download a free app that syncs with the ring. This is where you access your data, tips and suggested goals. I recently spoke to a developer at Oura and I’m testing a dashboard that allows me to analyse even more data.
And, by the way, I like the fact that the bluetooth connection that is required to sync the ring with the app is automatically switched off at night. Otherwise, this would kind of defeat the purpose, wouldn’t it?
How exactly does it work?
It’s actually really simple: You wear it and learn as you go along! After I’d ordered the ring online, the company sent me a set of plastic rings to determine the size. I made sure I could wear it on more than one finger so that I could swap around a bit. Now, I mostly wear it on my left finger (I’m right-handed) and only change it for swimming. For some reason, I prefer it on my right middle finger when in the water!
Make sure you download the app shortly after you start wearing the ring. Initially, I found that the data wasn’t as accurate as it is now after wearing it for several months. It seems that the ring “gets to know you” and also adjusts the messages that are sent to you via the app. The longer you wear the ring, the better it’ll get to know you. In tech terms this is called “artificial intelligence” (or “big brother is watching you”….). But trust me, the advice that comes out of the app is really good and helps me keep on track.
Below you see two snapshots from my Oura app: the top one is a particularly shoddy night’s sleep (a combination of being exposed to bright lights, not doing my evening routine and generally a lot going on). The other one below is after coming back from our holiday in Florida… despite jetlag, this was pretty impressive!
One feature that the company is currently working on (after chatting with one of the developers at Oura) is real time HRV. I’m not going into details on what HRV is (you can read more here) but it can be a fabulous marker for assessing the state of your nervous system. This is especially true when you measure consistently (at the same time every day) and start to see trends. And here’s my problem: I’m one of these people (a species called mum of two small kids) who hardly ever wake up naturally because one of my kids is usually awake before me and does this job (by jumping on top of me, for instance). And if I do wake naturally in the morning (1-2x a year), I tend to jump out of bed and embrace the day. I simply can’t stay in bed and start the day slowly- it’s never been my thing. This is a problem with HRV measuring: you’re supposed to wake up, wait a bit, maybe meditate and then measure.
So, when I learnt that a new feature of the ring, real time HRV, should be made available soon, I was pretty excited. It means that I can pick a time, for instance an hour before I wake up, and start looking at that in the data analysis instead of measuring HRV when I’m already awake. I need to research this in a lot more depth, but it sounds like this will be another brilliant tool.
How reliable is it?
Like with any gadget, tracking tool or piece of technology: Switch on the Oura ring as your gauge, barometer or guide but DO NOT switch off your common sense. Keep tuning into your body and mind and don’t follow the instructions in the Oura app blindly. It definitely gives you a good “roadmap”. As far as I’ve researched and confirmed with Oura, the science behind the ring is solid. For instance, there is a validation report in collaboration with the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health that concludes:
“In a sample of fourteen healthy subjects, the ŌURA ring provided unbiased and relevant data on sleep patterns, reaching comparable performance levels to the best scientifically validated alternative methods to Sleep Lab measurements.”
I also know that the company is currently doing more studies into various aspects of different measurements and correlations. When interacting with any of the managers, you quickly get how passionate and dedicated they are to provide an amazing and reliable product. New features and improvements are constantly added.
It’s important to note here that the science of sleep is still in its infancy. A bit similar to nutrition, there are different opinions out there when it comes to what the “best” sleep cycle is, how much REM or deep sleep we should be getting and other questions. I suspect it’s the same as usual: an aspect of health that highly varies between individuals!
What’s my verdict?
I really love the Oura ring. It helps me pace myself, work on my sleep and track my activity levels. When I sit for longer than one hour (which can easily happen when I’m writing a blog post like this!), I get a message with a gentle reminder “to stretch my legs a bit”. So, I for instance change over to my standing desk, get some water downstairs or stretch out. I know that currently there are some activity modifications in the pipeline because the ring seems to have a preference for walking, running and cardio in general. It doesn’t seem to “get” when I’m doing high intensity, slow moving resistance training… This definitely needs fine tuning but I know the activity feature will improve soon.
I’ve learned a lot about my unique sleep patterns and how they’re influenced by, for instance,
- not only what I eat, but also when I eat (or drink wine!)
- how much I have going on (my deep sleep seems to be negatively correlated with my “life load” or perceived stress)
- what I do before going to bed (no, watching a thriller didn’t help my deep sleep- no surprise there, but had to be tested)
- how much, when or intensely I worked out
- hot Epsom salt baths- they’re REALLY not good for me before going to bed!
And I’ll keep learning, experimenting and finding what works for me.
Go to www.ouraring.com, click on “Get the ring” in the top right corner and use code “pwdaly” at the checkout to get 10% off. Happy sleeping, moving, analysing and tweaking!