Early in the spring of 2018 I heard about the Ōura, a sleep and activity tracker in the form of a ring you put on your finger. Yep, tech is getting smaller and way easier to use.
I’ve long had a relationship with “bio-hacking” technology that is equal parts disdain and fascination, and the Oura certainly triggered both.
Back in 2015 I used a sleep tracking bracelet called a Readiband when I was working with sleep scientist Ian Dunican preparing for the Leadville 100, so I’ve had some experience with sleep tracking before. The Oura is leaps and bounds ahead of that bracelet (and pretty much everything else on the market) in a few important ways.
BLUF: Get an Oura*. This thing has given us great insight & motivation on how to get more sleep and stay just a little more active. Recommended!
If a sweet deal will send you over the edge, use “PALEOTREATS” for $50 off your ring.
Ok, so you want to know what this thing is, what it does, and why you should wear one? Here ya go!
I’ll briefly lay out the 3 things Oura tracks, assuming that if you have further questions you’ll read through their site for in-depth answers.
First, the ring tracks your “blood pulse volume” through infrared LED technology, (the same tech used in pulse oximeters you put on the end of your finger at the hospital.) That picks up your heart rate, heart rate variability (HRV) and through some algorithms, your respiratory rate.
Second, the ring tracks your body temperature. Yep, variations in this can indicate how deeply you're sleeping as well as when you might be a little stressed or getting sick.
Third, the ring has what most sleep trackers have, which is an accelerometer and gyroscope that tracks your movement. That movement tracker is the ONLY thing most other sleep trackers have, and that method of tracking sleep is called actigraphy.
By itself, actigraphy is a fairly inaccurate way to measure sleep. With the Oura, it's just one of 3 data streams.
The ring houses the computer that runs all the algorithms that connect the dots between data to give you an idea of how you slept along with how active you were throughout the day. Yes, technology is truly getting radical!
Ok, ok, so if you’re like me you’ve got the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other:
"Will a ring really help my sleep?" "Wow, it’s a computer inside a ring!" "What could it possibly tell me that I don’t already know?" "Hmm, it might be useful to keep an eye on my heart rate variability, which I really paid attention to when training for ultra marathons." "What could it tell me about the activity requirements of paragliding?"
With those questions (and a few more), I started to poke around for answers. I read many of the online accounts, waded through Alex Fergus' review, listened to Peter Attia mention Oura a few times (along with the fact that he’s an investor in ‘em), and downloaded podcast interviews with various Oura reps, of which I like the HVMN interview the most.
The next step was for Lee & I to take the rings for a test run so we could report on ‘em for you, our Paleo & health loving peeps. The experience starts with the boxes; the Oura crew obviously understands the importance of aesthetics!
Here are the 10 questions and answers triggered by the fascinating technology of wearing a computer on you finger.
1) Before you got your Oura, what did you expect to happen once you got it?
I wasn’t sure, but I was excited! I thought I’d be able to run all sorts of experiments on sleep, including how much exercise and paragliding affected my sleep, how much, what, and when I ate (meat vs veggies, broth, fasting, etc), how long prior to sleeping I should cut out blue light exposure, and what I might do to make sure I was getting plenty of sleep.
After talking with Max de Zambotti (who published the only study I could find on the Oura, I realized to get truly useful results I’ll need more time to set up a baseline (so I can see how much those things cause me to deviate), and I’ll need lots more time to test each thing individually. I ended up doing a podcast interview with Max in March of 2019, where we talked about the accuracy of wearable trackers and their utility for consumers.
I didn't expect I would enjoy it so much! My sleep is much better than I thought it was and it lessened my anxiety about it. WIN! I also like the fact that it gives me my resting heart rate average. I can see when I am stressed or not eating right and need to do something about it.
2) What is your favorite thing (or things) about the Oura?
I love what it represents about our future as a techno-species. While I’ve got my Luddite predilections, there’s no denying that integrating technology into our lives gives us insight and perspective that we wouldn’t otherwise have. I’ve experimented bio-hacking with tDCS, fasting, and pushing both physical and emotional limits, and the data stream that technology gives us is a useful counterpoint to our intuitive sense of things when it comes to improvement.
Definitely the sleep tracking. It's amazing how it tells you how much REM and deep sleep you get.
3) Do you think wearing this ring has helped you? In what ways?
As obvious as it sounds, this ring has highlighted a stubborn fact I was able to ignore because I wasn’t tracking it before: I wake up without fail between 6:30 and 7:00 AM.
Now, I knew that before I got the ring (hell, I’m the only person living in my body as far as I know, so I’m aware of when I wake up), but I was able to ignore it because it wasn’t “in my face”.
Having the Oura has made it super obvious (from seeing all the sleep data the following morning) that the best way for me to improve my sleep is to go to bed earlier. Knowing that I will not “sleep in” means that the only variable is bedtime.
There is a quick caveat here: I usually lay in bed and organize my thoughts for 15-30 minutes before leaping up to attack rosy-fingered dawn. Oura will translate that as me still lightly sleeping (which is pretty close.) I just make a mental note of when I actually woke up, no big deal. The important point here is that I won't normally be asleep past 7 in the morning.
You may think, “Nik, did you really need a ring to tell to go to bed earlier?” The answer, embarrassing as it is, is yes.
At 41 years old, with a fully functional body that will do anything I ask of it, the best thing this ring did for me is to remind me that I need to care of this 148 lb skin bag I walk around in, and that going to bed earlier is an easy and cost-free way to do that.
It tells me when to get up and move. It's like my BF that way, it holds me accountable to move and get the blood flowing.
4) Are you concerned about the privacy issues of having your Oura data in the cloud?
I believe 'em. The company is out of Finland, and people there take their privacy pretty seriously.
My take on it is that I engage in “internet life” under the assumption that most, if not all, of the data I put online can be eventually compromised, and I don’t put anything out there that I wouldn’t want my Mom to see in the morning paper.
With that in mind, I don’t really sweat the fact that someone may see my resting heart rate, or how much variation is in my body temperature, or how much activity I engage in on a daily basis. I’m fine with Mom seeing those in the morning paper; hell, she might actually be proud of me for some of ‘em.
Geez, not really. I mean, social media has all our information already. Wait a minute, should I be? :)))
5) Do you feel like the Oura has helped you understand your sleep better?
Yes, definitely. With the caveat covered in Max’s study above that the ring isn’t yet a perfect match for the sleep measurement gold standard of polysomnography (PSG), having the ring has pointed out to me a few things that were really easy to correct and improve about sleep habits (the vital importance of getting in bed earlier) along with driving a curiosity about what actually gets me to sleep vs just laying in bed.
The power of a pre-sleep routine, the soporific effect of a warm bath, the help of wearing blue blocking glasses once the sun goes down, and reading even a few pages prior to sleep are all things that the Oura either made clear or validated when it comes to sleep.
Yes, I'm pretty much a sleeping rock star and never knew it. Now I know. I showed the results to a friend and he said "wait a minute, you got 10 hours of sleep last night?" Of course, I don't want to let my stats on my ring drop. ;)
6) What are the most common questions you’ve been asked about the ring?
Are you concerned about privacy issues? Does it help you sleep? Does it work? I figured this blog post would answer most of 'em. :) One thing I get a lot is “Wow, that thing is really light!” It definitely doesn’t weigh as much as I thought it would.
Can I try it on?
7) Has wearing the Oura changed your behavior in any way? Do you walk more, sleep more, go to bed earlier, turn out lights earlier, try different ways to improve your sleep?
Absolutely! Look, the sleep info was interesting, and as I mentioned above I started going to bed earlier, which is a change in the healthier direction. Additionally, I’m very curious now about how to get more deep sleep than is being reported (around 45 minutes a night).
Just thinking about getting the ring made me examine my pre-sleep routine more, so Lee & I ordered blue blockers and started wearing ‘em at night. I also became more conscious of a pre-sleep routine and making sure I was really winding down before getting into bed and NOT staring into the digital sun of computers and phones just before bed.
What I didn’t expect was that an activity tracker would encourage me to move as much as it has. I’ve always felt pretty darn active, but looking at the number of calories burned due to activity throughout the day makes me realize I need to get up and move around a bit more.
Biking to work, walking the dogs a bit longer, running to the top of launch vs only halfway up the hill when paragliding; all of those things are clear changes in behavior compared to before I had the ring.
That’s in large part what is so rad about the Oura. It is SO easy to use: You just wear a ring.
There are no buttons, no forgetting to enter in some start and stop time, nothing. I charge it every 5-6 days, which takes about an hour. Everything else happens automatically and is up to me if I decide to look at the information.
I definitely exercise more and pay attention to my sleep. I honestly think everyone should use one. I recently made a trip to NYC and saw the difference in disrupted sleep and also what a few glasses of wine did to my resting heart rate. Like wha?! I let my ring down. :(
8) What is one piece of advice you’d give to anyone that you’ve learned about yourself and your behavior patterns from wearing the Oura?
The obvious one is to go to bed an hour earlier. For me, that displays the huge hidden benefit of this ring: You’ll find out what YOU need to do vs what’s good for Nik Hawks and Lee Selman. While it’s always interesting to hear what other people do, at the end of the day, you’re the one inhabiting your body and living your life.
The real power of the this ring is in showing you a customized version of your sleep and activity life. From there, it should become pretty clear what you can do to improve your sleep and waking habits.
That I am pretty much the healthiest person I know.
9) How often do you check your sleep and activity scores?
I check ‘em a few times a day, usually in the morning after I’ve had my coffee and been writing for a bit, then again in the early afternoon, and once more when I get home from flying. I’ve been tracking my subjective changes (covered in the Month of Measurement blog post) before looking at the Oura data and been observing how the data has changed my sense of sleep. I’ve had a few days where rolling out of bed I felt like my sleep was just OK and then seen a high sleep score and started to re-think how good I actually felt (in a positive direction!)
I check my sleep first thing in the a.m. for sure, and activity twice a day. If I haven't hit my activity goals I make sure and do something about it.
10) What is one thing you wish the Oura did that it doesn’t do (yet)?
It’d be interesting to get to see real time data push to the phone on demand. I’d like to see how all the data changes in a heavy squat workout vs a sprint up the hill with a ruck on.
I’d like to see a slightly different shape; the Heritage version that we wear has a flat part to indicate where the top is, but it’s really easy to twist it 30 degrees off center and move the sensors away from the palmar arteries on the bottom of your finger. It probably doesn’t matter that much, but it’s something that bugs me.
There’s a Balance version that just has one ridge; maybe that’s easier to keep placed correctly?
I also think it might be helpful to have the ring vibrate or give some kind of tactile notification to remind you to get up and move (so I don’t have to look at my phone, which I often have tucked away where I don’t see it), or, in the rare cases where I have to get up to an alarm clock, a way to wake me up as my body is coming “up” to full consciousness vs dipping down into deeper sleep.
Tell me I am dehydrated, remind me to call my Mom, balance my checkbook. Too much? :)
Ok, that’s our initial report on the Oura ring! I think we’ll keep going with our Month of Measurement when it comes to these rings; they’re just so dang easy to use!
Nik & Lee
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