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It all started because I was tired of feeling like crap.
As a general rule, I think I’m pretty healthy. I remember to floss most nights. I take my vitamins at least half of the time. I get some sort of exercise pretty much every day.
But back in January, I realized I had spent the umpteenth day in a row feeling like I was dragging. And it started right from the moment I woke up. Even though I’d spent 8 hours in bed the night before, I didn’t feel rested.
So, I decided it was time to try one of those newfangled sleep tracker wearables. And I researched them obsessively and hemmed and hawed for days. After all, they’re pretty expensive, and I am…frugal. Because I’m trying to get off of screens whenever possible, and because lots of folks I respect swear by it, I finally settled on the Oura Ring rather than one of the multitudes of smartwatches.
What’s an Oura Ring
If you haven’t heard of this nifty device yet, it’s a simple band you wear on your finger. It measures your sleep, heart rate, activity, and temperature throughout the day. The Ring uses the data it takes in to give you three scores each day: your sleep score, your activity score, and your readiness score.
Based on the data it collects, the Ring (which my husband has started calling My Precious) suggests an optimal bedtime for you and reminds you to wind down a couple of hours before. It sets an Activity Goal for you each day and reminds you to get up if you’ve been sedentary too long. It tracks your periods and notifies you when (based on an increase in body temperature) you might be getting sick.
After just a few months of using this nifty little device, I feel like life has shifted a bit in every way.
Here are some life lessons I’ve picked up (or been reminded of) thanks to my interactions with the Oura Ring.
Being sedentary is not the goal
Before I got the ring, I exercised most days, but for much of the rest of the day, I was often relatively sedentary. If we were cleaning the house, and something needed to go upstairs, I’d ask the kids to take it rather than taking it myself. I’d try to combine trips—say to bring in the trash cans and get the mail—to save my energy.
Once I got the ring, though, I had an activity goal to meet, or maybe exceed. Steps were a good thing that got me a little closer to my aim. I got reminders to stand up and move around a bit if I was playing a board game, reading in the hammock, or working on the computer and had been sitting too long.
And it’s so counter-intuitive, but getting up and moving around more, which seems like it should COST me energy actually GIVES me energy.
This is just basic biology according to the folks at Harvard Medical School. Exercise causes your body to make more mitochondria, which are the parts of the cell that create energy from the food you eat and the oxygen you breathe. The more mitochondria you have, the more energy you can create. Exercise also brings in more oxygen, which helps your body function better and boosts hormone levels that make you feel good.
I have a lot of control over how I sleep
So, it turns out, just getting into bed at a decent time and crossing my fingers that it will all work out is not the ideal recipe for a great night’s sleep. I noticed within the first few nights of using the Oura Ring that, although I was getting a decent amount of sleep, the quality wasn’t so good.
I didn’t get nearly enough deep sleep, and my heart rate usually stayed elevated until early the next morning. As a result, I couldn’t recover or feel rested.
So, I started doing little experiments to see if I could raise my “Sleep Score”. (I should add that my husband was out-of-town on business for about 6 weeks. This made it much easier to make some tweaks.)
Here’s a list of everything I tried in an attempt to sleep better:
- Adjusting the temperature of my bedroom. I learned that 60-67 degrees is the optimal overnight temperature for most people. I centered on 67.
- Buying blue-light-blocking glasses and a zero-blue-light bulb for my reading lamp
- Cutting out my evening TV shows
- Going to bed EARLY. Like, getting in bed at 8:30 to read after I’d said goodnight to the kids and turning the lamp off by 9:00.
- Giving up coffee.
- Finishing my last meal of the day by 6:00 p.m.
- Giving up alcohol.
All of these things made minute improvements. One change finally seemed to “fix” my sleep, though.
- Turning off all devices one hour before bed.
This one made me sad. I’d bought the blue-light blocking glasses so I could use my iPad at night to read ebooks, sketch on my digital sketch pad, or practice my Spanish on Duolingo. Unfortunately, even the glasses weren’t enough to overcome the energizing effect of using my tablet at night.
Once I put it away, my high overnight heart rate went down. I got a great amount of deep sleep and stayed asleep overnight. And most importantly. I woke up feeling great.
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The quality of my sleep affects the quality of my life
Since I had kids, I haven’t really thought that much about getting good sleep. I started sleeping terribly when I was breastfeeding my first. And then it continued as we had overnight bathroom accidents, stomach flu, escapes from toddler beds, bad dreams, and then there was breast cancer treatment which kept me up with weird medications and anxiety. After years of not sleeping, I just kind of…got used to it.
But, boy, does life look different after a really good night’s sleep. I am creative and energized. I can tackle my daily tasks quickly and efficiently. I can be patient with the kids and cheerful with my spouse.
I feel more grateful and optimistic—my entire outlook on life changes. And I’m not alone in this. A 2020 study showed that after just five nights of restricted sleep (less than 5 hours each night) people were likely to have a negative emotional bias. Study participants looked at a series of photos–some unpleasant, some pleasant, and some neutral. After sleep restriction, they were more likely to see the pleasant and neutral images as negative.
So this means that even if stuff in your life is going well or even…fine, it’s not likely to seem that way when you’re tired.
What gets measured gets managed
It’s easy to go through life mindlessly, assuming everything’s ok, but when the data is there, it’s hard to ignore it. Having targets to hit every day and an easy way to know if I’ve hit them or not means that I’m likely to succeed.
I know exactly how many steps I want to take, and so I take them. My optimal bedtime window is clear, so it’s easy to hit. When I choose to do something fun—like drink a few cocktails or stay up late watching Saturday Night Live—I can see the effect that it has on my body.
I certainly still do these things. Life is meant to be enjoyed, after all. They are exceptions rather than the rule, though. It’s honestly a big change from the days that I hung out and watched tv every night with a glass of wine (or 2) in my hand. And I feel sooooooo much better.
I don’t need to push through like a robot every day
The Oura Ring changes its “readiness score” and its activity target for you every day, based on what you did yesterday, how you slept, what’s happening with your body temperature and heart rate, etc.
So, if I had a terrible night, the Oura Ring reminds me to take it easy. It astounds me how freeing this has felt. In the past, I always just pushed through. If I woke up feeling terrible, it didn’t matter. I had to do today’s prescribed workout, the chores on today’s chore chart, and all the activities I’d planned to do with the kids.
Somehow, that little message: ‘Pay attention–take it easy’ feels like permission. Of course, it’s permission I had all along, but now I’m choosing to actually take it!
The Oura Ring was a gateway drug. I’m working with an integrative doctor and nutritionist now. I’m drinking water that’s been through a reverse osmosis filter. I’m spending 10 minutes in the sun every morning when I wake up in an attempt to reset my circadian rhythms. I’m experimenting with altering my exercise, food choices, and work tasks according to my menstrual cycle.
I feel like I’ve still got a ways to go to truly have “optimized” my health, but I’m definitely not feeling like crap anymore.
Do it now
You DO NOT need a $300 ring or other spendy lifestyle tracker to enjoy the benefits I listed above. Here are some small things you can try right now to improve your sleep and activity levels.
- Commit to moving more today. You might park a little further away from the store, go for a walk while you listen to your favorite podcast, or set a timer reminding you to get up and do 10 jumping jacks every hour. There are countless ways to sneak a little more movement into your day. You’re sure to find a few you enjoy.
- Think about how you’ve been sleeping lately. Do you feel energized and refreshed when you wake up or draggy? If it’s the latter, (and you’re not in a season where you’ve got a hungry newborn in the house or something) consider trying your own sleep experiments. The book Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson has 21 suggested strategies to try as well as a 14-day sleep makeover.
- Start tracking your stats. Consider keeping your phone in your pocket throughout the day and using a pedometer app to track your steps. Studies have shown that people who wear a pedometer walk a mile more each day than those who don’t! Note the time you went to bed and time you woke up every day for a week. Journal what you did on the nights you slept well and what happened on the nights you slept poorly. What gets measures gets managed.
- Listen to your body. Wherever possible, adjust your goals for the day based on the way you’re feeling. Let’s all stop trying to run a marathon, clean the whole house, and have the most magical day ever with our kids EVERY SINGLE DAY. We need the ebb and flow–the rest and recovery.
Want some ideas for enjoying more rest and recovery? Check out my No Time, No Money, No Problem Self Care Challenge!