I started wearing a gold halo around my left forefinger at the very end of 2021. It was the Oura ring, and it tracked my every move. With all the wearables floating around on the market, my curiosity surrounding sleep trackers and their reported benefits was piqued: Could I really achieve better sleep and understand my inner workings in a deeper way just by wearing a flimsy little ring around my finger?
As I went about my day (and night), the ring collected data about things like my activity, temperature, heart rate, and sleep. It accurately alerted me when it suspected my period was due. It rated my sleep and “readiness” levels (a holistic view of my health in the morning, essentially ranking how much strain the body is under and ability to take on the day) each morning on a scale of 100. It told me what time was best to go to sleep. I could go on. And on.
In other words, the Oura ring gave me a lot of data. It was sort of like wearing Big Brother on my finger. I wore it continuously for about eight months, from late December through August. And when I say I learned a lot about myself — and my sleep in particular — I mean a lot. But it was not without its flaws.
What I Learned About My Sleep
Though Oura tracks many things, it seems the majority of users get the most out of sleep monitoring. That was definitely the case for me. Having data about how I slept at my fingertips made me feel powerful, like I controlled my destiny.
Every day I woke up and found out exactly how many hours I’d slept, how long I’d been in bed for, and how efficient my sleep had been. Oura tracked how many times I’d woken up, how many times I’d gotten up from bed, and even any tossing and turning in the night, along with many other data points.
This was useful in that I had a better sense of why I felt tired after ostensibly sleeping eight hours. I might’ve been in bed eight hours, but I’d slept only six and a half, after all the flopping around. At the same time, knowledge without action is useless, as they say. It wasn’t that I couldn’t take action — I could, and I did. I went to sleep earlier. I meditated more. But there were still nights I just didn’t sleep that well, and I’m not convinced knowing the nitty-gritty details served me in any real way.
If you’re a professional athlete training for a marathon, this much info might be helpful; but then again, it might work against you if you wake up on the big day feeling ready for action only to encounter low scores in your app.
Either way, I reached for my phone every morning like a rat pushing the lever for food. I had to know how I’d slept. I no longer asked myself in the morning whether I felt rested; the app was my beacon, and I looked to it with fervor.
Consumed By Oura
My Oura data obsession didn’t end with sleep. Upon awakening, I habitually reached for my phone to find out how ready I was for the day and what my activity goal was. This felt special and novel, like a new world had opened up to me that held the keys to my wellbeing.
The ring and its multitude of information certainly had benefits. It was impossible to miss how much better quality my sleep was if I went to bed earlier in the evening, and so I endeavored to do so as often as I could. With the app’s help, I found that 10:30 p.m. was the sweet spot, and anything past midnight had an obvious negative effect on my sleep. There were mornings when I woke up feeling rested but found a weak activity score, and gave myself a day off from exercise or took a walk instead of something more vigorous.
But there were also times when I had to choose between trusting the ring and trusting myself. Though at first glance forgoing a morning run when the app says your body needs rest sounds good — data saves the day! — I’m a strong believer in trusting your body. The longer I wore the ring, the more I consulted it, which might have led me astray. Maybe I would’ve been better off had I ignored the app and done what felt best on any given day. I’ll never know for sure.
The House Of Harmony
During the eight months I wore an Oura ring, I learned that I sleep about seven hours and 54 minutes per night. My average nighttime resting heart rate was OK, but not incredible: 59 bpm, with my lowest-ever at 46 bpm. Overnight, my average heart rate variability (HRV) was 34 milliseconds (eh) and my highest average was 75 ms (OK). In those months I took 2,358,750 steps, or close to 10,000 steps per day. And I took 32 naps.
The app, at the end of the year, informed me in its summary that I was in the “house of harmony.” They explained: “As a harmonizer, you really know how to move to your body’s rhythm, and it shows in your readiness scores. This year, your lifestyle and body were…well…in harmony. You did a lot, but your body was ready for it.”
This confused me. It seemed to be saying I was doing great, but my eight-month norm didn’t seem like anything to write home about. My average HRV was in the gutter. My sleep average felt — well, average.
That said, I was in seemingly good health. Getting a harmony summary made sense to me: I listen to my body, I work out consistently, I get good sleep. Clearly my nap game is strong. The app’s numbers seemed to contradict that, at least in part, so getting such a summary felt like I was getting mixed messages.
Sliding Off The Ring
One day in late August of last year I took off the ring to charge it and never put it back on. Honestly, I think at least 50% of that choice was that I don’t love the look of the Oura ring. It’s way chunkier than my other rings, and it clashed with them. (Maybe if I had the Gucci version I would have been more enthusiastic?)
The other half of the reason I stopped wearing it was that I missed waking up in the morning and asking myself: How do you feel? What do you need today? Are you ready to hop out of bed and play the Lion King theme song? Or are you going to need to cancel Pilates and schedule an afternoon nap instead?
Ultimately, I found wearing the Oura ring to be kind of stressful. But I’ll also say: Writing this article, I started to pine for fresh data. I’m going through an interesting period in my life, and I’d be curious to see what the numbers say about it. Perhaps I’ll fire it up and give it another twirl — if only for old time’s sake.