• Emil Goliath

My thoughts & Musings: The Oura Ring

Updated: Jan 28

This is not a review because I’ve not tried other devices nor done a load of research about them all and then made an informed decision.


I chose the Oura because I don’t like watches and their marketing was great. I also have heard a lot of good stuff about them.

Nothing that I’ve seen has shown there to be anything better, particularly in the realm of sleep tracking so I’ve had no reason to change my mind and I’m pretty happy with my choice overall.


When my Oura broke at the end of 2019 (it stopped holding a charge), Oura customer services replaced it VERY quickly with minimal fuss. I couldn’t receive it back straight away as I as in Thailand and I realised I missed it A LOT during that time.


It’s not perfect but I really like it hence this blog post!


The Pros

  • It tracks sleep like a boss.

  • It gives great stress data in the form of HRV.

  • I love the readiness score as an overall view of how much of a ninja you are.

  • The data is very actionable and compelling.


The Cons

  • It doesn’t do activity very well

  • You can’t really wear it while weight training

  • I’m pretty sure it tracks both driving and typing as steps but inconsistently so yeah, not great for that.

  • The advice it specifically gives is pretty generic but this is where the self-experimentation comes in.


From this article, you’ll be able to get a run-down of what the device shows and if you own one (or you’re one of my clients) then I’ll give my tips and advice on how to improve the various scores. A lot of the bits have been gleaned from the app but I’ve also layered on top advice from books I’ve read, blogs and reviewed I’ve seen and my own lifestyle optimisation knowledge.


Readiness

I like to think of this is ninja score.

It takes a load of data and plucks this number out. This is the main one I look at and I love it. Below is a break down of HOW it is worked out but as you can imagine it is largely related to sleep, recovery, physical activity and recovery. In short, it’s your potential effectiveness in a day.


Please note: If you feel amazing then please don’t let a low readiness score dampen your game. There could be a million reasons for the discrepancy and it’s far more important, how you feel vs what number has been produced by the Oura app.


Previous Night

Not much to say here.

This covers how you slept the previous night. You need to be consistently over 88% to achieve top marks here so figure out how to boss the sleep score and go from there!


Sleep Balance

From what I can see, this is your average sleep time over the last 2 weeks. If it’s over 7 (6.5?) hours a night on average then you’ll score ‘green’ and it appears to take a few poor nights to drag the score down (at the time of reading my last few nights had been sub 7 hours but I was still green here.


Previous Day Activity

This is a funny one as the Oura isn’t great at activity tracking but not too little and not too much is optimal (see activity notes below). Don’t really know much more than this but again, check the Activity scores below.


Activity Balance

No idea. Same as above.

I can’t decipher this and just feel that it’s too individual and there is too much variation between people to be able to draw conclusions from it. I assume it’s not drawing on the HRV (i.e. recovery) data and just using the activity data but I may be wrong and it may be more sophisticated than that. If so, kudos to Oura but I still can’t work out how to beat it.


Body Temperature

This is a super interesting measure.

I understand that it’s related to recovery and readiness but in my experience it is great for detecting illness too! It may be the day before or a few days before but if your body temp spikes then it may be time to start taking zinc because you may be about to become unwell and this may shorten the duration (of colds).


Resting Heart Rate

This is a nice measure of fitness but I wouldn’t try to improve it. What I WOULD do is focus on doing health and fitness promoting activities such as exercising regularly. Over time this number SHOULD improve but I wouldn’t get too hung up on it.


Recovery Index

This is an interesting marker that I wasn’t hugely aware of. It’s the time for the heart rate to stabilise overnight and reaches it’s lowest point. The rule of thumb is that optimally, this occurs 6 hours before you wake up (so pretty rapidly). Again, this isn’t something I’d try to alter but by doing the healthy things, and sleeping enough, this should improve over time. Oura specifically recommends avoiding late-night food and exercise which seems sensible regardless.


Sleep

This is where the Oura comes into its own. Don’t get too caught up in the minutiae of deep vs REM sleep and just be reassured that improving your sleep overall is going to improve all other outcomes.


Total sleep

This is crazy useful - pay particular attention to the difference between time in bed and the time asleep. There is often a difference of 1-2 hours. This essentially means that you may need to be in bed a lot longer than you think to get adequate sleep. I’ve also seen data correlating the Oura ring to Sleep Cycle (the app) and it shows that the app is pretty poor compared to the ring.


The simplest way to improve this is to go to bed earlier. 15 minutes earlier is a great place to start. Also, extend the amount of time between going to bed and using screens like your laptop or phone. Blue blocking glasses can help but nothing will beat just switching the electronics off earlier and having some downtime before bed.

Apparently you need to clock 9 hours of sleep to fill the bar totally which seems very arbitrary so I just aim for ‘green’.


Efficiency

This is the amount of time you spend asleep after going to bed. This basically just adds up how long it takes you to get to sleep, how many times you wake up and how long after waking up before you GET up in the morning.


I listen to my book in bed before I sleep so I do need to make sure that it’s recorded my sleeping time correctly (you can adjust it accordingly with the slider) but I do agree with this concept overall. Beds and bedrooms are for sleeping and you can train your body to go to sleep quickly by avoiding other activities in the bedroom (e.g. watching tv or playing on your phone - sex is fine). It’s also helpful for your sleep hygiene to not spend hours in bed after you wake up in the morning. This can make it tougher to get to sleep in the night and the chances are you’re not getting any extra quality sleep during that time.


Restfulness

What wakes you up in the night? For me, it was a lot more than I thought. This could be getting up to pee, your partner stirring or your pet pawing at the door. Try to control these variables as much as possible.


Ways to improve this include:

  • Try not to drink huge amounts just before bed

  • Don’t let pets sleep in the room/ train them not to mess around in the night (can be tough I appreciate).

  • A firmer mattress (memory foam works) or 2 duvets will help with partners disturbing you overnight.

  • Using white noise or earplugs will stop sounds waking you up at night.

Oura also recommends:

  • Sleep environment (temperature, light and sound).


REM Sleep/Deep Sleep

These are the least accurate of the sleep data. I’ve heard reports of them being different when you replace your ring and nothing else changes. I don’t blame Oura. Sleep stages are going to be tough to measure accurately to kudos to them for giving it a shot but it’s on us to not over-interpret it.


The best way to improve these is just sleeping more. The ring does give some advice on how to improve deep and REM sleep but in lieu of accurate measurement of these, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. That said, advice like avoiding alcohol, drugs and caffeine are all generally sensible, along with the general sleep advice above.

For deep sleep, it also notes that keeping a consistent sleep schedule and not napping late in the day helps. These apply to getting more and better sleep in general so I’m behind these.


Latency

This is the time taken to fall asleep. If you read or listen to books in bed like me, this can be adjusted with the sliders within the app.


If you struggle to fall asleep then get up and do something relaxing such as reading or writing in your journal. Obviously using your phone or turning bright fluorescent lights on is not going to be a good idea, neither is watching Netflix or similar but I do appreciate that this works for some people.


By just tossing and turning and failing to sleep for hours you’re coaching your body that this is normal and expected so getting up is the best option. This also applies if you wake up in the night and can’t fall back asleep.


The biggest factor for getting off to sleep quickly will be routine (see Sleep by Nick Littlehales for more on the HOW of sleep), but all of the factors described above will apply. Additionally, I find getting up early and at a fixed time and then getting out into daylight as soon as possible helps a ton. It effectively ‘starts the clock’ for your circadian rhythm and you’ll start to build up ‘sleep pressure’ sooner making you more sleepy at night. This can be delayed if you stay in the dark for hours in the morning, especially in the winter. In this case, a daylight lamp can recreate the resetting effects of sunlight.


Timing

This is for the vampires/ night owls among us. Oura likes the ‘midpoint’ of your sleep to fall between midnight and 3am which means you should be getting to bed before 23:00. Generally speaking, getting 8 or 9 hours of good sleep is still not ‘optimal’ if it is not aligned with the local day/night cycle and I appreciate Oura for trying to measure this and encourage it (I have a number of clients who like to wake up at 18:00 so this feature on the Oura was godsend for me to hammer this point home).


Activity

This is the least accurate of the Oura’s features. Despite this (or because of it), I tend to score in the high 90s consistently by training for an hour in the gym 5x a week and recording it as a ‘moderate’ session. I also have an hourly routine of getting up and either listening to my audiobook or doing a short mobility routine so perhaps this is unsurprising.


Stay Active

To achieve this, you need to have less than 8 hours of inactive time to make this score nice and high. It looks like if you go above 12 hours of inactivity then you’ll go red. This is a big issue with my clients so I tend to recommend doing a standing mobility circuit every hour (see here) and walking around while you’re on calls or listening to books. I’ve got this habit nailed and tend to automatically stand up and start pacing like a loon even if I’m recording a 10-second voice message. Using a standing desk will also help!


Move Every Hour

This is related to the above. In short, try to move every hour. The standing mobility circuit (here again) helps. I use the Pomodoro technique on a 45-minute timer and try to get outside and do a little bit of walking with my audiobook for a double whammy of winning at life.


Meet Daily Goals

This is a review over the last week. If you fall short of your goals for 3 days in the last 7 then your score drops. Given that your Oura is awful at tracking steps and activity this is kind of pot luck but I find that not wearing my ring for weight training and then entering my training sessions separately works well and I can usually hit my goals with no problem.


Training Frequency

The description in the app seems to suggest that exercising 3-4 times a week at moderate to high intensity is optimal. The issue is what the ring picks up as it only samples heart rate at intervals so just entering the data separately using the “Add Activity” function may be the most consistent way.


Training Volume

This is similar to training frequency and it talks about MET minutes. To be perfectly honest, I would just do your normal routine, track it for a few weeks and assess your score. You can then adjust accordingly. There is something about 2000 MET minutes in the description on the app but I wouldn’t get bogged down in as this seems super arbitrary.


Recovery Time

Again, this one is based on METs so the above advice applies i.e. do a few ‘normal’ weeks then experiment with doing more or less. I am wary of taking the advice from Oura about taking time off but I suppose for most of us who aren’t elite athletes this will probably be about OK. Realistically, for most people getting ‘too much’ recovery time is going to be the real issue.



So that’s that.


I love this bit of kit and even if you don’t own one the advice above still applies! What the Oura adds is the fact that this is measured and kept so you can’t ‘just forget’ that you’ve had a few late nights and it makes you more likely to take action.


Any questions let me know and if you have any more info about any of the above points then I’ll happily update this article to include it!

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© 2019 Dr Emil Hodzovic.