I started using the Oura Ring in September 2022, so luckily it’s had a few months to calibrate to my body’s baseline. Developed in Finland, an Oura Ring is wearable tech, worn 24/7 on your index finger. Its sensors track a range of body metrics to give you information about your wellness—especially sleep.
I ordered the Heritage Gold—pricier for that gold finish but all my other jewelry is yellow gold. I find it to be seamlessly comfortable, even while lifting weights.
This tool will be key for tracking my goals during this Sleep Health month. I’m passionate about making data-informed decisions, but admittedly I am not trained in data analysis. Often I’ll collect a lot of data but then won’t know what to do with it! As an advertising creative, I thrive on using solid findings from my strategists—but I rely on them to first read the raw data and draw correlations.
My one frustration to date with my Oura Ring is having all this data literally at my fingertips but feeling overwhelmed on how to draw actionable meaning from it. Not to say that the app doesn’t already do a lot of that for you; it does provide at-a-glance information and personalized suggestions. But there is still so much more to explore and absorb.
(I read once somewhere that there are exponential gains focusing on your strengths instead of trying to better your weaknesses; we simply can’t be good at everything. So, disclaimer to myself, I’m not going to waste hours attempting to be a data analyst.)
Anyways, I faced my intimidation, and it took me a focused hour and 15 minutes (not bad!) to look at my Oura ring data in a new way and define clear goals for this month. I made a table of the monthly sleep data averages that, to me, had the most obvious correlations against which I could test hypotheses over the next month.
- Bedtime and Wakeup (time) is self-explanatory
- Total = total hours asleep
- Readiness = this is a score that Oura calculates based on different factors (balance of your sleep stages, heart rate variability, etc) that rates how good you’ll feel to take on the day ahead. 85 or higher is Optimal
- Deep / Light / REM refers to the different stages one cycles throughout sleep
Note: I was sick for two weeks in December, which damages your sleep quality.
Sleep Goal #1: Find the ideal amount of time my body needs under normal conditions.
Under normal conditions meaning not while being sick, sleep-deprived from the night before, recovering from intense training, etc. From paying attention to those days I sleep without an alarm, go to bed before midnight, and feel great when I wake up, it’s about seven hours, never a full eight. The table above seems to agree, although the two months with the highest Readiness scores are a few minutes over seven, and I am still far from an Optimal (85) score. My guess is I need 7h15m-7h30m. (Adults in my age group need 7+.)
Approach: It’s hard to live life without an alarm, but if I can use my alarm as the latest possible safeguard yet hope to wake up naturally before it goes off, I can test my ideal total sleep time. I’ll start with working backwards from this safeguard alarm time, starting with a 7h15m of proposed sleep time.
Sleep Goal #2: Find what’s my best consistent one-hour window for waking up and going to bed seven days a week.
Knowing how many hours of sleep I need is one thing; when to sleep those hours is another.
We should get up and go to sleep at the same times daily, even on weekends and days off. This makes sense in theory if you’re aware of the circadian rhythm—the natural, internal 24-hr sleep-wake cycle in your body—but is difficult in practice. From the joy of sleeping in on a day you have nowhere to be to the compromise of waking up a lot earlier twice a week to workout before work to staying out late to spend time with friends…it’s really hard to commit to the same bedtime/wakeup schedule.
Yet, this disruption in the body’s circadian rhythm can lead to obesity and an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease, all three of which have led to mortalities in my family.
Per the table of averages above, my bedtime window roughly is between 11:30pm–12:30am. However, the weekly graph of my bedtimes on Oura shows consistent spikes of very late party nights on weekends with catchup early nights the next day or midweek.
An interesting thing about sleep cycles, which I’ll present sources on in future posts, is that it’s not just the total hours of sleep, but the time spent in each cycle that makes a huge difference—the time of night during which you cycle into a certain sleep stage is dependent on your body’s own circadian rhythm. So, you could get eight hours of sleep on two separate nights, yet one night being of much better quality than the other because the timings were different. The night you woke up earlier may have, for example, cut you off before a critical last REM cycle.
With that fact in mind, I wondered if earlier bedtimes resulted in better Readiness scores. After cross-checking the early nights on the graph (8:30-10:30pm bedtimes), the sleep quality seemed to really vary so there wasn’t a quick conclusion to be drawn there.
Looking at both the monthly table above and the weekly graphs, the two best Readiness scores happened loosely when my average bedtime was before midnight.
Would it be fair to guess that my ideal bedtime might fall between 10pm and midnight?
This reminded me of my 23andMe report, which says my DNA indicates I am more likely to be a night person/late-riser. (A post on this later!) As a self-admitted overachiever, I fight feeling ashamed of this possibly being true; we live in a society that idolizes the early-bird go-getter and insists that early mornings is the one path to success. Pre-pandemic, I’ve awoken early my entire life. It wasn’t until the WFH lifestyle that I realized, half in denial, that I started to slip into later and later mornings.
Approach: Take away the late party nights for the month to avoid skewed data, power down at the daily suggested “wind down” time my ring gives me, and let myself fall asleep unaided by supplements or alcohol until a strong trend forms.
Sleep Goal #3: Define my factors for optimal sleep latency.
The Oura Ring defines your sleep latency as how quickly you fall asleep. “Ideally, you will fall asleep within 15 to 20 minutes of lying down. Falling asleep in less than 5 minutes could be a sign that you are going to sleep too late or not getting enough sleep.”
Latency is the bane of my sleep life. There is nothing worse than tucking in for a good night’s sleep and laying there, staring at the ceiling forever.
The Oura Ring tracks lots more than just the sleep metrics I’ve been sharing in the post so far, but again, just focusing on these small bites to test hypotheses to support my health goals. (In May, for Heart Health month, I’ll get into all the heart rate data.)
In the table below, I cross-checked some sleep metrics with daytime activity ones.
- Midpoint = the midpoint of your night’s sleep. Oura considers your sleep timing to be optimal when the midpoint of your sleep falls between midnight and 3 a.m. (the darkest period of the night).
- Inactivity = how much time I spent during the day, aside from sleeping or resting, sitting or standing still. Oura recommends less than 8 hours of inactive time daily.
- Activity Score = how active you were during the day and cumulatively in the previous week, with 85+ being Optimal
December is a bit of a wash as I was sick for most of it and taking a lot of Advil PM to knock myself out. Again, my best months are October and September, with slightly earlier bedtime and higher activity scores.
The Oura Ring allows you to add tags to your days to track factors that could affect your sleep like alcohol, late meals, caffeine, and more; plus now they’ve upgraded the software so you can write your own unique tags.
I’d like to be a person who falls asleep within 15–20 minutes of being in bed. How much does my lack of daily activity affect my latency? On the flip-side, how late before bedtime should I work out or be active? When is the best time for me to unplug from electronics and dim the lights? When in the day should I cutoff from eating spicy or heavy foods or drinking alcohol? (Luckily I don’t really drink caffeine so that’s not a concerning factor for me.)
Approach: Starting tomorrow I’ll be more diligent with tagging daily factors.
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