How Oura Helped Me Change My Life

I’ve written before about how my health was on a downward slope because I was “too busy” to pay attention to it. You can read about it here. The first step I took to regain my well-being (I like to use this word as a combination of physical, mental and emotional health) was to buy an Oura Ring. It’s essentially a sleep tracker in the discreet form of a ring that you wear on your finger. I love tech and was really excited to dive into the data!

I wasn’t experiencing any sleep problems in particular so you might think that sleep tracking is an unusual place to start. But I’m going to share how it helped me make some changes that not only improved my sleep, but also my overall well-being.

Screen Time

The first part of this was to reduce my screen time during the day. I gave myself a daily allowance on my iPhone and once I reach the limit, it locks with a PIN code that I don’t know. My girlfriend has the code and I need to give her a damn good reason before she unlocks it, and I give her €1 as a fine. So now I use my phone 2 hours a day, before this would have been closer to 4 hours.

The second part of this is when I use screens. I’m not tracking my computer screen time but I am more mindful of how I use it and at what times. The important thing is not to be scrolling through social media, watching shows or even working before bed. All these things are stimulating your brain and not preparing you to sleep. I really enjoy watching crime shows and if I do this before bed I know I won’t get a good night’s sleep.

Screen time before bed can show up in my data as:

  • Increased sleep onset latency (a complicated way of saying, “taking a long time to fall asleep”)
  • Increased awake time (Battling to stay asleep)

Alcohol

A single glass of alcohol can negatively affect your sleep (I recommend Matthew Walker’s “The Science of Better Sleep” on Masterclass.com for more info on this). Being Austrian I love beer, and spending a lot of time in South Africa means I’m often in close proximity to a good glass of wine. But seeing the affects it had on my sleep was a real eye opener! I haven’t cut out alcohol completely (as for reasons mentioned above), but I’m more mindful of when I drink and how much. If I need to be sharp and well rested I’ll skip that drink with dinner and opt for better sleep.

Something that I am really curious about is that when I drink port wine, even 2 or 3 glasses, it doesn’t seem to affect my sleep at all! Does anyone know anything about this? Get in touch!

Alcohol can show up in my data as:

  • Increased Heart Rate
  • Higher than normal Resting Heart Rate
  • Delayed and Reduced REM sleep
  • Reduced sleep onset latency (As a sedative, alcohol can get you to fall asleep quickly)

Basically this means you fall asleep easily, but your quality of sleep and recovery is not good at all.

Wind Down Period

Does your brain become hyperactive when your head hits the pillow? Something I do to discourage this is give myself enough time to wind down before bed. I try to relax and prepare my mind and body for sleep about an hour and a half before bed. This also means no eating and no working out too close to bed time. I usually plan to exercise in the mornings and I have dinner quite early, before 7pm. My wind down routine includes journalling (either the 5 Minute Journal or the Bullet Journal by Ryder Carroll), I also try do some fiction reading or going for a light walk. I’ve also tried meditating with Head Space. These things help with sleeping better but are also great for mental health! I find myself generally less anxious thanks to this routine. As you make this a consistent habit your body will automatically feel tired and ready for sleep as bed time approaches.

No wind down period can show up in my data as:

  • Increased sleep onset latency
  • Increased Resting Heart Rate
  • Reduced REM sleep

These can be caused by a range of different things, difficulty falling asleep is perhaps the most relevant one.

Consistent Bed Time

One of the best things you can do to improve your sleep is consistency! There is a lot of information about this and circadian rhythms online. I go to bed and wake up at similar times everyday, and I try my best to stick to it on weekends too! I’ve found that a good bed time for me is around 9pm and so I start my wind down period by about 7:30 pm. Helpful hint: If you are struggling to find your own rhythm, look into Chronotypes!

An inconsistent sleep schedule can show up in my data as:

  • Increased sleep onset latency
  • Reduced sleep efficiency
  • Reduced time spent asleep

Room Temperature

Apparently the optimal room temperature for sleeping is about 18°C (65°F), personally I have the temperature in my bedroom set to about 20°C (68°F) and it seems to work really well. I’ve realised that if I get too hot during the night I wake up in a panic and can sometimes hallucinate (not kidding!).

A room temperature that is too hot or cold can show up in my data as:

  • Reduced REM sleep
  • Waking up frequently throughout the night

Coffee

This is one of the more difficult things to cut down, probably because it really is addictive. I’ve cut my coffee intake down to 1 or 2 cups a day and I no longer drink coffee in the afternoon. Another awesome thing about being in South Africa is that I replace my afternoon coffees with Rooibos cappuccinos!

Too much coffee or coffee consumed too late can show up in my data as:

  • Higher average Resting Heart Rate
  • Increased sleep onset latency
  • Reduced time spent asleep

These small changes have really helped me, and once my sleep started improving I noticed the effects spreading to the rest of my life! I hope they inspire you to make some positive changes in your own life too! These have all been fairly simple steps to take and as you can see there isn’t an all-in-one solution for better sleep, rather there smaller lifestyle changes that can make a huge difference.

I feel like I have more control of my health but I still think it could be easier. The data isn’t overly complicated but I wish it was even simpler. I wish I didn’t need to decode my heart rate to find a way to improve. If you use an Oura ring (or any other wearables or trackers) and have similar thoughts, I’d love to hear from you!

We have a community discussion space called All About Sleep, get involved and share your experiences!

I hope to hear from you soon,
Pete

Partner @ Gateway Labs - Building something new for your health