As a result, I’ve gotten a slew of HRV & sleep-related questions that range from HRV 101 (“What is HRV?”) to advanced HRV (“My HRV is consistently in the 100s. How can I improve it with sleep-specific tactics?”)
No matter where you fall along the spectrum, one thing is certain: HRV is a fascinating topic and there's always more to learn!
As a reminder, HRV currently stands as one of the most effective ways to quantify that otherwise esoteric & subjective, “How do you feel?” question at-a-glance. It essentially illustrates how your nervous system balances the wide variety of stimuli it constantly faces. Or, as this recent article out of Harvard Health Publishing put it simply, Heart rate variability: A new way to track well-being.
Measured against your baseline, you can get a solid idea of whether your body is hanging out in a predominantly sympathetic state or parasympathetic state.
Because HRV is a notoriously complicated biofeedback tool, here are some simple (and hopefully humorous) visuals to illustrate:
1. SYMPATHETIC STATE: Lower HRV numbers tend to point to being in a physical and/or mental state that sort of looks like this:
*Reminder: You tend to get these lower readouts when you're stressed, run-down, hungover, sick, inflamed, experiencing an allergic response, etc.
2. PARASYMPATHETIC STATE: Higher HRV numbers tend to point to being in a physical and/or mental state which sort of looks like this:
*Reminder: You tend to get higher readouts when your nervous system is in more of a relaxed and recovered state as it relates to your own baseline readings.
On the topic of sleep and HRV, those of us who've been measuring our HRV for a while understand that the fastest way to knock down your nighttime HRV readings is...drumroll: alcohol. Such a bummer, I know. It doesn’t matter if you have the fanciest wines, finest batches of whiskey, etc. This post below from a longtime Oura ring-wearer illustrates what a couple of glasses of wine before bed did to her HRV scores.
To navigate the confusing world of HRV, I’ve compiled some simple resources below. I’ll also get into the sleep-specific HRV metrics in my new Sleep Reset course. If you aren’t already on the waitlist, definitely add yourself here.
- 🎧Resource: Podcast Channel, EliteHRV Like I said before, Jason Moore knows his stuff. Hit subscribe and indulge his knowledge, or take the leap and invest in one of his many Elite Academy courses.
- 👂Resource: Podcast Episode, WHOOP Podcast No. 29: Heart Rate Variability (HRV), with Kristen Holmes and Emily Capodilupo This episode professes to tell you everything you want to know about HRV (heart rate variability), and while that’s a hard task, they do tell you a LOT. Particularly practical takeaways: turns out, alcohol and cheese are your mortal enemies when it comes to improving your HRV readings. Hydration is HRV’s friend because your heart doesn’t have to work as hard which it's hydrated versus dehydrated. The episode goes into the nitty-gritty of HRV and even discusses how one user discovered that almonds (something that you many consider healthy unless you've read The Plant Paradox) were messing with her readouts. Furthermore, thermoregulation is a taxing task, which is why things like taking control of your nighttime environmental temperature can make such a difference in improving your HRV.
- 📘Resource: Book, Biofeedback and Mindfulness in Everyday Life: Practical Solutions for Improving Your Health and Performance This Harvard Medical School faculty member really breaks down this topic and provides actionable methods to improve your own numbers.
- 📘Resource: Article, How I Track My Heart Rate Variability, Recovery Status, And Training Readiness (And Why These Metrics Are So Important), Lots of goodies in here! I don’t love the Naturebeat recommendation, but besides that, there are some great tips.
- 📺Resource: YouTube video, How I'm Optimizing my HRV with my Oura ring This is a video by one of my favorite “modern-day philosophers,” Brian Johnson, who owns the company, OptimizeMe, in which he creates hundreds of “cliff notes” of the top health & wellness books. In it, he demonstrates the power of experimenting with some of your automatic daily behaviors to impact your HRV. In this example, he stops eating about 4 hours before bed (something I highly advise too!) to promote glymphatic drainage [see: How does the brain take out the trash?] and discovers huge wins in his HRV numbers.