I Tried The Oura Ring To Fix My Sleep Issues — Here’s What Happened
One writer puts the buzzy tracker to the test.
Some time this spring, I fell into a state of acute exhaustion that no amount of JOMO (joy of missing out) or sleep seemed able to cure. I carved out time alone, took it easy at the gym, and got the golden standard eight hours of sleep every night. But as days of these restorative practices stretched into weeks and still my fatigue persisted, I began to worry that something more specific than needing a good bout of rest and relaxation might have been at play. But lacking a good wearable — like an Apple Watch or the Oura Ring — there was no way for me to review what was going on inside my body.
Furthermore, the thought of going to a doctor with the vague complaint of fatigue filled me with dread. As a woman, I know that doctors are more likely to dismiss my symptoms as psychosomatic, and was afraid of a lot of leading questions about my sleep, stress, diet, and other lifestyle factors that were pretty well in check even before my self-imposed time out. A primary care doctor might refer me to more doctors that might not lead to any valuable conclusions, or refer me to specialists whose outlook was similarly vague. The whole enterprise sounded, well, fatiguing.
This isn’t to say that it’s a bad idea to consult with a doctor to rule out serious conditions — like those involving your thyroid, for example, which can lead to fatigue — but sometimes that isn’t realistic, or necessary. Wasn’t there a better way, I wondered, to do some preliminary ground work to figure out what might be going on in my body that was making me so tired?
Enter the Oura Ring. It is a wearable smart ring that first arrived on the market in 2015, and collects and analyzes a number of different real-time biometric health data markers from your body. The device can offer valuable clues to your health and help you isolate factors that may be contributing to any number of health problems, including but not limited to fatigue. This data can, over time, provide a picture of your health without your having to go in for multiple doctor’s appointments. The Oura Ring is essentially designed to allow you to simply go about your day with a ring on your finger that takes all of these measurements for you. Here’s what I found after wearing the Oura Ring for a month, and how it helped me kick my fatigue to the curb once and for all.
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- Price: $399
- Best for: Tracking sleep, activity, and general health
- Your rating: 4/5
- What we like: The ease and accuracy of health data tracking.
- What we don’t like: Nothing much, besides the possible triggering of perfectionism and obsessive health tracking.
How To Choose An Oura Ring
The most recent, third-generation Oura Ring is notably sleeker than its predecessors. I selected a chic gold style online — the wearable comes in four colors, including gold, silver, black, and dark gray — and waited patiently for it to arrive. When it did, I downloaded the Oura app while charging my ring, and then connected it to bluetooth. This is the basic setup that makes the Oura Ring work: The device measures your vitals as you wear it, and translates all the data back to the app on your phone. The ring also comes with a charger, and you’ll need to charge it every third or fourth day.
What Does The Oura Ring Measure?
The Oura Ring measures a number of disparate vitals that can give you valuable insights into everything from your heart rate to your sleep quality. The app is grouped loosely into three different sets of data: those measuring readiness, sleep, and activity. Each of these categories has a number of different categories within it, which also all combine to give a display of your overall health on any given day and more generally.
The first category to look at is readiness. Readiness takes into account a number of factors that the Oura Ring measures. First among these is your Resting Heart Rate. This tells you how many times your heart beats per minute at rest. A normal resting heart rate for adults is between 40 to 100 beats per minute (bpm). My Resting Heart Rate was the first thing the Oura app told me about myself, and the moment I slipped it on, it was at 53 bpm. I had been afraid that the Oura Ring was going to make me feel bad about my fitness and health, but 53 bpm was actually in athlete territory. This was the first indication I had that, in addition to course correcting me when necessary, the Oura Ring could also validate work I’d put in towards my health — in this case, a six-day-a-week yoga and Pilates regimen.
The Readiness section of the Oura app also takes into account your body temperature, respiratory rate, and heart rate variability, along with your sleep and levels of activity. The temperature gauge can tip you off if you’re coming down with a bug before you may even feel anything — particularly useful in detecting cases of asymptomatic COVID — and your respiratory rate measures your number of breaths per minute, which should generally be between 12 and 20. And your heart rate variability measures how much, if at all, the time between your heartbeats fluctuate. This can tip you off to anything from a heart condition to a mental health issue like anxiety or depression. A stressful conversation, not to mention a prolonged bout of stress, can have the effect of increasing your heart rate variability. And by tracking it, the Oura Ring can let you know when stress might be starting to get out of hand.
Along with the vitals above and your levels of activity, your readiness is also determined by your sleep. The sleep tab on the Oura app tells you far more than simply how many hours you logged and how long it took you to fall asleep. Indeed, the breakdown of data within the sleep tab would prove the key to understanding my fatigue.
The sleep tab does track all the basics, including how long it takes you to fall asleep and how long you are actually asleep. But it also measures your REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement sleep, which is responsible for dreaming, memory, and emotional processing) and can offer important clues to how much deep rest your body is really getting. Thus, when I logged on to the Oura app the first morning after receiving it, I was dismayed to see that although I had logged 7 hours and 58 minutes of sleep, only 22 minutes had been spent in REM sleep. An average adult should get about an hour and a half of REM sleep a night, and I wasn’t even clocking in at a third of that. This percentage would go on to repeat itself for the next several days, leading me to believe that increasing REM sleep might be the key to my fatigue.
Indeed, not enough REM sleep can lead to irritability, tiredness, and difficulty concentrating: all symptoms I had been experiencing along with my fatigue. In other words, my Oura Ring was clueing me in to the fact that although my quantity of sleep was good, the quality could use work. Armed with this knowledge, I set out to increase my REM sleep, in part by beginning to supplement with magnesium at bedtime — which the app recommended to me — and am already experiencing a bit more REM sleep just two weeks in to this supplementation, with over half an hour most nights.
In other sleep news, the Oura Ring also tracks how long it takes you to fall asleep at night, and uses that data to calculate your “sleep efficiency,” the average amount of time you spend in bed asleep versus trying to fall asleep. It can also measure how many times per night you’re waking up, if any, whether you’re tossing and turning, how your breathing is during sleep, and whether your sleep schedule is basically consistent. This all can lend you valuable insight into any sleep issues you might be having, as it did me with my REM sleep knowledge.
“Oura also gets to know your personalized rhythm and makes bedtime recommendations to optimize your sleep,” Oura’s Product Marketing Manager and Women's Health lead Caroline Kryder told me. “With these insights, users can start to implement subtle changes, such as going to bed earlier, sleeping in a cooler room, adjusting meal times, cutting out caffeine after a certain time, or changing their mattress or pillows, to improve their sleep hygiene.”
The activity section of the Oura app doesn’t just clock your workouts or steps. It goes beyond that to measure how often you are moving, as research has linked sitting for prolonged periods of time with health conditions ranging from elevated blood pressure to high blood sugar. As a dedicated fitness enthusiast who exercises regularly and walks almost everywhere, I assumed that my activity scores would be good or excellent across the board. But it turns out that I wasn’t moving nearly often enough, sitting instead for long hours at my computer before getting up to walk or work out in concentrated bursts. In the interest of reversing this pattern, I turned on reminders and notification from the Oura app, and was reminded about once an hour to get up and move, even for just two minutes. This brought my activity scores back into balance across the board.
In addition to measuring how often you move, the app also tracks your workouts, your calories burned, your steps, how close you are to meeting your training goals, and your recovery time. Recovery time was another area where it turned out I needed a little work, as recovery time indicates how much time you’re giving your body to recoup from exercise. The app recommended that I scale back a bit on my workouts, and after taking one more day a week off working out — bringing the total number of days down to five — I found that my recovery time adjusted into the ideal zone.
With all three of these basic groupings the Oura Ring is able to give you an overall snapshot of your health on any given day, as well as track your health over time. Its insights and recommendations came to feel like having a little doctor in my phone all the time, analyzing what was going on inside my body and making recommendations based on those findings. For example, after one tough night of only five and a half hours of sleep, the ring’s app had customized recommendations for me, like not to try and power through on caffeine, or take a nap, as this was likely to disrupt my sleep the following night. It feels analogous to having a doctor in your pocket who can make basic recommendations based on copious amounts of real-time data.
Are There Any Drawbacks To Using The Oura Ring?
One unexpected side effect of using the Oura Ring was that I found myself getting perfectionistic about reaching the optimal zone for each category every day. For anyone with a history of perfectionism, not to mention disordered eating or activity, the Oura Ring can be something of a minefield.
On days when I found myself getting a little too invested in my data, I limited myself to looking at my overall Readiness Score. “Oura is designed for users to scale up or scale down the amount of information they absorb each day based on their needs,” Kryder told me. “If people just want a quick glance at their health, the Readiness Score is purposefully designed to give a holistic picture of your health. It tells you at-a-glance if you are ready to face greater challenges or if you need some recovery and rest.”
Lasting Lifestyle Changes
In addition to feeling better rested — thanks, perhaps, in part to getting slightly more REM sleep — having used the Oura Ring and synthesized its insights over the past month has led to me making a number of lifestyle tweaks. It’s been impossible to ignore that nights where I’ve had more than two alcoholic drinks my sleep quality has suffered, particularly REM sleep. Similarly, nights when I eat closer to bedtime I’ve noticed it being harder to fall asleep, so I’ve shifted my mealtime earlier as much as I can, in addition to moderating alcohol. The result? I truly feel the Oura Ring has empowered me to make the best decisions I can for my overall health, and equip myself with the knowledge I’ll need over time to ensure that I stay in peak form ... no JOMO required.