If you didn’t know a ring could offer stress relief, you haven’t met the Oura Ring. While Hand Candy isn’t my first port of call for health management, this is no ordinary ring.
And it seems like we should all take a hot minute to check our stress. According to the American Psychological Association’s 2022 Stress in America survey (opens in a new tab)about a third of adults report feeling overwhelmed by stress, and more 70% of people have suffered from a physical illness in the last month.
The best fitness trackers and smartphones do just about everything these days, but could mine also offer me stress management? In light of Stress Awareness Week, I thought I would put the Oura Ring to the ultimate stress test and see if it could help me manage and reduce stress. Find out what happened when our writer spent a month with the Oura Fitness Tracker Ring or read on to find out how I did.
What is the Oura Generation 3 ring?
The Oura Ring was designed in Finland to measure, monitor and improve health and fitness with a unique focus on sleep and stress, and the The Oura Ring just became a much better fitness tracker, too. The ring position is primed to read signals from your body using sensors to track sleep, oxygen, heart rate and temperature and create a personal mapping journey of your health and habits on its partner application.
The ring isn’t cheap — it sells for between $299 and $399 — but if you can navigate past the high price tag, it could be a game-changer for tracking and improving stress and sleep. They say you can’t put a price on your health, but can you? I discovered.
I used my Oura ring fitness tracker to manage my stress – here’s what I noticed
I kept my ring on 24 hours a day for the first month (apart from charging) to maximize the accuracy of the ring. Oura says it takes about a month for the device ‘learn‘ you, so I recorded as much information as possible. Here is what I noticed.
1. My sleep hygiene sucks
I quickly realized that my sleep hygiene was rubbish. The app gives you an overall sleep score on factors like sleeping time, latency (how long does it take to fall asleep), efficiency, REM sleep, and rest. After digging a bit, I chose to focus on two stress-related sleep factors: deep sleep and heart rate variability.
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) refers to the variation between your heartbeats and tells you how well your body reacts to training, travel and stress. It’s a powerful way to measure the balance of your nervous system, with a high HRV associated with your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and repair) and a low HRV indicating you’re in the sympathetic nervous system (‘fight or flight’).
Deep sleep is focused on recovery. You should average between an hour or two per night, but this decreases with age. During deep sleep, your blood pressure and heart rate drop, muscles can repair and grow, and your immune system rests. Deep sleep deprivation is usually associated with high stress, stimulants like caffeine, and bright screens before bedtime (me in a nutshell).
My HRV fluctuates between 42 and 56 (the highest HRV score is 120), and my deep sleep rarely exceeds an hour. I have a lot of work to do.
2. Daily meditations work
The Oura Ring has an exploration section full of guided meditations, breathing exercises, and deeply relaxing bedtime stories and soundscapes. Little did I know I wanted a soundscape of the Amazon jungle to put me to sleep until I had one.
To research (opens in a new tab) showed that short meditation can significantly reduce stress and improve sleep. I have since incorporated daily meditations into my morning routine and use rapid breathing exercises in the app if I feel overwhelmed.
3. My stress level affects my workouts (and vice versa)
When my HRV was low, the Oura Ring offered a low daily readiness score and recommended gentle exercise and rest over high intensity training. Surprisingly, it closely matched how I felt and helped me to consciously check in mentally and physically before training.
Studies (opens in a new tab) show that late-night exercise can increase cortisol levels, which increases heart rate and temperature and keeps you fit ‘alert.’ I go to CrossFit classes after work and have always had trouble sleeping on nights when I train late. I recently changed my routine and noticed a small difference in my level of rest the next day. I now favor gentle yoga and stretching in the evening and schedule CrossFit classes in the morning instead.
Turns out my workout has been stress me out.
I used the Oura ring fitness tracker to manage my stress – my verdict
I’ve always been a night owl struggling with restless sleep and stress, but this was even more confirmation that all aspects of health are intrinsically linked. Our bodies are much smarter than we think, and I had to make conscious changes to improve my sleep and my stress.
The first in the trash were the late-night CrossFit classes. I always knew that late night exercise wasn’t ideal. Yet after sifting through research on cortisol and exercise (opens in a new tab), overwhelming evidence cites intensity as the problem, as you are reinforced (chemically) on all fronts. On the contrary, the same study found that low impact exercise reduced cortisol levels.
Although I don’t like getting out of bed in the morning (which is counterintuitive for being a fitness trainer, I know), my CrossFit workouts are now a staple morning routine, and I’ve already noticed that my level energy increases throughout the day. The cortisol hangover from late night screens and strenuous exercise still mess with my mood, but the improvements are there.
If I feel restless in the evening, I make a valiant effort to lay down on one of the best yoga mats and stretch or take a yoga class instead. Yoga is one of the best exercise methods for reducing stress and anxiety, and this bedtime yoga routine could soothe most people.
What else did I learn? No stimulants before bed, so I’m currently going through the Oura ring guided meditations instead.
But did it work? Although it’s early, I have to admit that I’m waking up calmer and my sleep scores are slowly improving. I’m much less effective in the gym when I’m grumpy and tired, which only makes my stress levels worse. Morning classes are great for boosting your energy, mood and productivity during the day, and I now have more free time to spend with my dog and partner in the evenings. Win-win.
If you’re struggling with stress and sleep, why not experiment with some of the added features of your fitness tracker?
If you struggle with stress, check out the best weighted blankets and how to sleep better at night with these tips.
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