No matter what you're hoping to improve about your health, there's no escaping the importance of sleep. Health experts are constantly preaching the myriad of benefits of sleep — it boosts immunity, promotes muscle growth, strengthens memory — and warning about the negative impacts of chronic sleep deprivation (i.e. high blood pressure). But clocking the recommended amount of zzz's nightly to best reap these rewards (and nix these risks) is not always a walk in the park.
Luckily there's no shortage of products promising better sleep, from boxed mattresses to adult bedtime stories (available on apps such as Calm). And for those who want to monitor how they're doing once their head hits the pillow, there's the Oura Ring (Buy It, from $299, goop.com, ouraring.com): a wearable health tracker ring that puts an emphasis on sleep data.
Now, I'm not the fitness tracker type, but the Oura Ring (pronounced like "aura ring" or "ora ring") piqued my interest. The device promises to collect exceptionally accurate biometrics during sleep — a time when you're completely unaware of your body's functioning — and is the only wearable that tracks heart rate variability throughout the night, according to Oura's CEO, Harpreet Singh Rai. (More on the importance of HRV later.)
"We've found that sleep is a great time to measure all these physiological things because you're not moving [as much as during the day]," he says. "We've shown Oura's resting heart rate and heart rate variability to be 99 and 98 percent accurate to an EKG overnight, while some of those measures during the day can be pretty noisy." Translation: the ring's been shown to measure heart rate data overnight — vs. the day when there tends to be a lot of "noise" or environmental changes that can impact your stats — nearly as well as a medical-grade electrocardiogram device (aka an EKG).
Technology aside, I appreciated that, unlike most trackers, the jewelry-like-gadget — which comes in eight different sizes — is more discreet than a wristband. (Priorities.) Available in silver, black, gold, or silver with diamonds, the cost of an Oura ring can range in price from $299 to $999, depending on the style.
Okay, first impressions: The ring takes a few minutes to set up. Once you pair it to your smart device via the free Oura app, you're prompted to answer a few questions, such as your height, weight, and current goals. I chose the somewhat broad "Improve my health," but other options include "Be productive and energetic" and "Manage stress levels." From there, you slip the ring onto your finger — any digit is doable, though index, middle, or ring tend to work best, according to the brand — and it will start reading your heart rate and body temperature.
By the next day, you'll start receiving three key numbers or "scores," all on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being the best. The Sleep Score tells you how well you slept; the Activity Score is based on estimated calories burned throughout the day; and the Readiness Score refers to the extent to which you've recovered from the previous day's activities and how, well, ready you are to take on the day ahead. (In other words, this number indicates "your capacity to perform at your mental, emotional, and physical best," according to the online description.)
When reviewed together in the a.m., these three numbers (especially the Readiness Score) can help you gauge your body's overall status to best plan your workout and other activities. The app provides another quick and straightforward nugget of info: a recommended bedtime based on your sleeping patterns and how they've seemed to affect measurements like your resting heart rate. Mine's been hovering at 10-10:45 👵🏻.
If you want to get even more micro, you can drill down within each of the three categories to find out where you stand on metrics, such as sleep latency (how long it took you to fall asleep; ideally 15 to 20 minutes, according to the app) and training volume (how much you engaged in moderate- or high-intensity activity in the past week). You can also view how long you spent in each sleep stage the night before. (ICYDK, deep sleep is central to your body's natural repair process.) Or you can monitor your body temperature, which might offer a clue as to when you're getting sick. In fact, a recent study by researchers at the University of California San Francisco (one of whom works for Oura) published in Scientific Reports analyzed data from 50 people previously infected with COVID-19 and found that 38 of the 50 participants saw significant changes in their temperatures registered on the Oura app days before they started feeling symptoms. (Related: The Most Common Coronavirus Symptoms to Look Out for, According to Experts)
As mentioned, the Oura Ring also tracks your resting heart rate — aka how many beats per minute at rest — and heart rate variability — how much time passes between each beat. In general, a higher HRV is usually a sign that your heart is adaptable and your autonomic nervous system (which is responsible for the fight-or-flight response) is functioning well. And the lower your RHR, the more efficiently your heart is working. Sound familiar? That's because the WHOOP, another popular wearable focused on recovery, also tracks users' RHR and HRV (among other biometrics) overnight. Unlike WHOOP, however, the Oura Ring is, well, a ring (vs. a wristband) and is more of an overall health tracker than a fitness tracker. If you're intrigued by the WHOOP but want something lower profile — or more comfortable to sleep in — the Oura ring could be a perfect solution. (Related: How to Find — and Train In — Your Personal Workout Heart-Rate Zones)
It takes at least two weeks for the app to learn your baseline heart rate and temperatures, but even after that initial time, the device will continue to get to know you and adapt as needed. For example, if you start following a new workout plan and your HRV improves, the ring will adjust its recommendations based on your new average. Speaking of workouts, the Oura Ring app has a place for you to keep track of your sweat sessions as well. You can log your workouts as well as add tags throughout the day, such as "caffeine" or "late screen time" to give the Oura smart ring a better idea of your behaviors and how they might be affecting your metrics.
Before I started wearing the Oura Ring, I fully expected to get a huge pat on the back from the app every morning regarding my sleep habits. As someone who follows a structured nightly wind-down routine and treats my eight-hour shuteye as nothing less than sacred, I thought I had little room for improvement. Lo and behold, however, the Oura Ring showed me otherwise, pointing out surprising areas I needed to step up my game. (Related: I Tried Apple's New Fitness+ Streaming Service — Here's the DL)
For instance, one night I slept more than eight hours, but my score was just "good" because it took me a while (about 30 minutes) to fall asleep, and I didn't experience much deep sleep or restful sleep (which, again, are key for your body's natural repair process). The more I kept reviewing my stats, the more I started to consider my sleep score and the potential reasons it was high or low on a given day. For example, eating a large meal right before bed seems to have a negative effect on my shut-eye every time. While I'm a morning workout person, I do like the occasional late-night dinner, and I might be eating when my body doesn't have ample time to digest, throwing off my sleep in the process.
The Oura Ring also provides general health-related guidance within the app — something along the line lines of "Reminder: try not to eat a big meal or work out right before bed" (which, TBH, I probably should've paid attention to). And being that I'm highly sedentary these days (thanks @ global pandemic), I've received my fair share of "Time to stretch your legs a bit?" notifications, which feel like the fitness tracker equivalent of Netflix's "Are you still watching?" But what I found to be particularly helpful was the Oura Ring's daily activity goal, which was continually realistic and achievable. That's because the daily activity goal is partially based on how much activity you usually accomplish. Since I've been doing a lot of sitting, my goal's never felt that out of reach — which, I've come to realize, can be particularly encouraging when you just don't feel like it (be it working out or just going for walk).
And even though I'm not fitting in much movement nowadays, wearing the Oura Ring has still been an eye-opener when it comes to how I plan my workouts. Pre-Oura-me wouldn't skip workouts unless my muscles were so sore it hurt to lift my arms. But my Readiness Score showed me otherwise, dipping its lowest after I woke up earlier than usual, spent the day packing for a move, and, most detrimentally, drank too much in the eve — not, as I would've previously thought, after an intense weight training sesh. (Related: The Best Fitness Tracker for Your Personality)
As mentioned, I haven't been my most active self lately, since I'm no longer commuting or going to workout classes. I wasn't sure if this ring would provide all that much value to someone who gets a lot of sleep and doesn't push their limits in terms of training. While I still think the tool would be more helpful to someone who's training for an event or is a CrossFit regular, I've been able to use it to glean new insight that's informed my daily routine (i.e. the whole late-night meal revelation). IMO the Oura Ring is worth checking out if you want to tune into your body's recovery process with a detailed look at your stats or if you're just attracted to the subtlety of a shiny multi-purpose ring.