Giving Discomfort the Finger | Why the Oura Ring is a Ring
Have you ever wondered why the Oura ring is a ring? Why is it not the Oura Watch or Oura Earlobe Sensor Px4500? It’s time to find out.
There are two main reasons:
But first, let’s quickly go over the fundamentals. To build a solid sleep improvement solution, you need solid and accurate measurements of physiological changes in your body: such as heart rate and body temperature. The key question is: how can we get high-quality measurements while not disturbing sleep. Or in other words, how can we make something that’s useful but not cumbersome.
How comfortable are the options out there?
You can achieve our goal with different form factors, some of which have been around for decades (and some for thousands of years):
Intensive care units use finger clips for monitoring pulse. Athletes use sports watches, and sleep labs use self-adhesive electrodes. Some of the options on the list fulfill the first requirement (high-quality measurements) but fail on the second (not cumbersome). Let’s look at the list again:
ring: not for everyone
finger clip: limits movement
earlobe clip: may cause discomfort
mattress pads: comfortable but not portable
self-adhesive electrodes: uncomfortable and disposable
You can’t spell ‘wearing comfort’ without a ring. The Oura ring is designed to be worn around the clock, and especially at night. That’s reason number #1 it’s a ring.
How good is the signal?
It’s not wise to build a house on shaky grounds. If the signal you’re building on is off, your house will be a crooked mess of mixed metaphors. Good signal in, good insights out.
There are two main placements for optical heart rate sensors in wearables aimed at everyday users: the wrist and the finger. Both allow for free movement and can be used 24/7. Compared to some of the options out there, here’s how Oura stands out:
1. The Oura ring uses infrared LEDs
The infrared wavelengths of light go deeper into the tissue than, for example, green light. This allows the Oura ring to get the signal from the large arteries on the palm side of the finger, instead of the smaller capillaries at the surface of the skin.
Infrared light isn’t affected as much by skin color or tattoos. Also, infrared light is invisible to the human eye so it doesn’t disturb you while you sleep.
Below you can see an example of the pulse waveform captured by the Oura ring. While you’re sleeping the ring captures the pulse waveform at 250 samples per second throughout the night. Good signal in, good insights out.
2. The Oura ring is designed for optimal fit
To get good data with optical heart rate measurement, there are some precautions to take:
the sensor shouldn’t move
the tissue next to the sensor shouldn’t move
In practice, this means that the measurement device needs to be strapped in tight. Some people find it uncomfortable to wear a heart-rate tracking watch as tightly as it should be, especially at night.
The Oura ring has the same requirements. However, because it’s a ring, it’s much more natural to find a size that is both snug and comfortable. The inner molding is non-allergenic so it’s comfortable to wear over longer periods, which is all good because the battery lasts 6–7 days.
Summary: the wrist, the finger or something else?
… is almost like asking cappuccino or avokado smoothie? If you want a watch, consider getting a watch. If you want a ring, perfect. But if you want a wearable designed especially for improving the quality of your life through better sleep, consider getting an Oura ring because that’s what it’s made for.
“Peak performance is meditation in motion,” said Olympian Greg Louganis, “where you’re not thinking, just doing.” Whether the task at hand is mental, physical, or a little bit of both, getting “in the zone” for peak performance requires more than skill. “The only way to achieve [peak performance],” Louganis said, “is by letting go of self-judgement.”
In this context, self-judgement means forming an opinion or emotion around a thought, rather than let it pass without fixation. When you judge your thoughts, you break focus. And without focus, you can’t reach peak performance.
With 60,000 to 80,000 thoughts crossing our mind each day, tuning out the noise is no small feat. Lena Franklin, a psychotherapist who specializes in mindful practices, estimates around 70% of our thoughts are negative. And, predictably, “negative thoughts fuel poor performance,” she confirmed. But there is a way to cut through the chaos and hone your ability to focus effectively: mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness is the ability to be present and engaged, free from distraction or judgement. It is a skill that can be honed, and regular practice can actually change the brain.
Scientists have identified at least eight different regions of the brain influenced by mindfulness practices. These areas regulate functions including perception, body awareness, pain tolerance, emotional regulation, introspection, complex thinking, and sense of self.
Mindfulness can give athletes like Louganis an edge in training and competition, but it’s also beneficial for performing in business or school. “Mindfulness should no longer be considered a ‘nice-to-have’ for executives,” wrote a team researchers in an article published by Harvard Business Review. “It’s a ‘must-have’: a way to keep our brains healthy, to support self-regulation and effective decision-making capabilities, and to protect ourselves from toxic stress.”
In this article, we’ll explore the effects of mindfulness and meditation on performance of the mind and body.
The Mind-Body Stress Connection
In the scientific community, the physiological effect triggered by meditation is called the “relaxation response.” The relaxation response is thought of as the opposite of the stress response (AKA fight or flight). When you put stress on your body (through physical training) or your mind (through intense mental work), you can restore balance by putting yourself through the opposite of stress: relaxation. And you won’t be able to reach peak performance again until you’ve fully recovered.
“When the brain relaxes it sends out a message to the body that it can relax, too,” said Jennifer Houghton, a trainer who specializes in mobility. “Body and brain learn from each other.” Mindfulness practice calms the nervous system, which stops mental and physical responses to stress, like tense muscles, high cortisol, and poor digestion. Through this, you’re setting yourself up to recover more quickly and restore your mind and body to their optimal potential for performance.
Not only does mindfulness practice have an impressive effect on the nervous system and hormone production, it also has a measurable impact on the brain. In a study published by the journal Brain Research Bulletin, researchers found that people who were trained to meditate over an eight week period were better able to control a type of brainwave called alpha rhythms. Alpha waves flow through cells in the brain’s cerebral cortex, where sensory information is processed, helping to suppress distracting sensory information. Another study, dating back to 1966, found Buddhist monks who meditated regularly had elevated alpha rhythms across their brains. With improved alpha wave rhythms, one is able to discern what matters in the present moment and sidestep what’s irrelevant. In other words, mindfulness meditation measurably improves your ability to focus!
The goal of mindfulness isn’t to have zero thoughts. It’s about gaining awareness of our thoughts and thought patterns. If we can become aware of negative thoughts — about ourselves, our abilities, our circumstances — we can intentionally shift our mindset to one that embraces our abilities and even elevates our potential.
Before a high-pressure moment (like competing in a sport or presenting to an important group) pause for five to ten minutes to breathe, reset the mind, and repeat a positive affirmation. Drop into the body using mindful breathing and align with your intention for this performance, whether it’s setting a new personal record on a solo jog around the neighborhood, or you’re about to step in to the final round of interviews for you dream job.
When meditation is mentioned, what comes to mind? Maybe you have a mental image of dedicated monks in a remote locale or a group of experienced yogis in a studio. Maybe you see a spiritualist perched on a mountain top or picture a lifelong practitioner with crossed legs. Maybe you think about your last trip to a modern meditation studio like Inscape or mndfl, or you get a pang of guilt thinking of how many days its been since you opened the Headspace app…
”In Buddhist tradition, ‘meditation’ is a word that is equivalent to a word like ‘sports’ in the U.S.,” said Richard Davidson, a Harvard-trained neuroscientist who studied the minds of Buddhist monks while meditating. “It’s a family of activity, not a single thing.”
There is no singular “right” way to practice. Meditation is accessible, safe, effective, and highly personal. And with more meditation apps launching, studios opening, and practitioners sharing tips online, there have never been so many avenues to enter the practice.
And now, with Oura’s Moment feature, you have an extra layer of data to support — or start — your practice. In this article, we’ll explain the basics of meditation, how to use Moment with your practice, and some ideas for getting started with your routine.
To get started, find a comfortable space to sit or lie down, ideally as free of stimuli — like noise, artificial light, and device notifications — as possible. Close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply, drawing mental focus to the physical sensation of inhaling and exhaling.
If your mind wanders, that’s fine — let your thoughts float by like clouds in the sky or waves rising and crashing on the shore. Bring your attention back to your breath or another calming focus point, such as a sound (like “om”), a positive word (like “relax”), a mantra (such as “breathing in calm, breathing out tension”), or a patient acknowledgment of your thoughts (“thinking, thinking”) and return to your chosen focus.
Start small, and build up. Why not try five minutes today, six tomorrow, and seven the day after that? Dr. Herbert Benson, a pioneer of mind-body research in the Western world, recommends practicing mindfulness during the day for 20 minutes. If you start with five minutes today and add a minute each day, you’ll be confidently practicing for 20 minutes in just two weeks!
If you’re looking for more direction as you get started, there are plenty of resources to explore with seemingly endless programs to choose from. A few we like are Oak, Waking Up, Calm, and Headspace.
Inside the App
Moment was designed for restful, relaxing, or mindful sessions where you sit or lie still, for two important reasons. First, mindful and restful moments between tasks help your body and mind recover and re-energize. Second, movement during a Moment session distracts the Oura Ring’s optical tracking, making your results less accurate. While heart rate is easily measurable throughout activities like exercise, HRV measurement requires stillness to produce accurate results. Movement in the body throws off the delicate beat-by-beat differences seen in the blood volume pulse, which the Oura Ring uses to determine the state of your autonomic nervous system.
To start a Moment, tap the + button in the app home view. Before you begin, you’ll select a session length and set your soundscape (or opt for a silent session). When you wrap up, you have the option to tag your session as meditation, relaxing, breathing, or nap. You can also rate how the session went, choosing from bad, okay, and great.
Then you’ll get the sweet, sweet reward of insights. The longer your session, the more in-depth your stats will be. Here’s the breakdown:
Fewer than three minutes:
Lowest heart rate
Three minutes or longer:
Lowest heart rate
Five minutes or longer:
Full heart rate trend graph for session, including comparison to nighttime baseline
Full HRV trend graph for session, including comparison to nighttime baseline
Resting heart rate and HRV show how relaxed and recovered you are (or, alternatively, how stressed and strained you are). Your nighttime baseline is the best point of reference to compare against, because it’s during sleep that your body recovers. So, as a rule of thumb, the closer your resting heart rate and HRV are to your nighttime baseline, the more relaxed you are. However, daily variance in circadian rhythm, cortisol levels, caffeine intake, and exercise (just to name a few!) are likely to affect your measurements.
Personalize Your Moment
Moment was designed to fit into your practice, however you define it. Here are five ideas to inspire your first Moment — and many more to come.
Stay Present: Use Moment to calm the mind, quiet the body, and flex your focus muscle. The more you practice, the easier it will be for you to enter a peaceful state of presence in your daily life.
Boost Recovery: Optimize recovery by practicing stillness during the day. Think of it as a powerful supplement to the repair work your mind and body do while you sleep.
Master the Power Nap: Yes, you can use Moment to quantify your nap (!!!!). Experiment with time of day, length of session, sound versus silence, and other variables to make the most of daytime rest.
Before Bed: Ease out of a busy day and prep your mind and body for sleep with an evening chill sesh. It’s a certain way to bring your mind and body down a notch before settling in for the night.
Relaxation: Even if you can’t get into a meditative state, simply dedicating some time to stillness is beneficial. This could be a five-minute break on a park bench during your lunch break or a half hour where you zone out with your favorite show. It’s all about making space where you can — progress, not perfection.
As of launch, Moment is only available for iPhone users with a second generation ring and app version 2.6.0 or later. We will launch Moment on Android later this year.
Today we’re thrilled to announce the launch of a brand new feature within Oura: Moment.
Moment is a new way to understand the impact meditation, breathing exercises, and relaxation have on your body. Using the Oura Ring’s advanced sensors, Moment quantifies mindful moments to illustrate the link between mind and body like never before.
Giving yourself dedicated downtime during the day can have a big impact on your well-being. Similar to sleep, these periods aid in physical and mental recovery.
Imagine your mind and body are a computer uploading and downloading information during your waking hours. At a certain point, the computer slows down if there are more requests than it can handle (what we humans might call “hitting a wall”). The savvy user knows to pause the lower priority demands to ensure the most important files are being transferred. Taking a daytime breather gives your mind and body a chance to hit pause on those frantic “files” and reconnect to their most essential functions.
Moment is your on-demand companion for all forms of downtime. Here, we’ll get into what Moment is, how it works, and how to get started.
Moment was designed to promote peaceful moments because — great news — chilling out is really, really good for you. Meditation can decrease anxiety and risk of cardiovascular disease while increasing mental cognition and sleep quality (which, in turn, will increase your Readiness Score — win, win).
Moment delivers insights to understand how dedicated periods of mindfulness impact your body during your waking hours, similar to the insights Oura collects while you sleep.
If you’re new to meditation, we hope Moment will drive you to develop your own practice. If you already meditate regularly, think of Moment as a motivating new tool to enhance your routine, giving you an extra layer of information to maintain or improve your practice.
Measuring With Moment
The Oura ring tracks your blood volume pulse directly from the palmar arteries of the finger with infrared LED sensors. We deliberately designed Oura as a ring (rather than a watch) because the arterial pulse at the finger delivers a significantly more accurate reading than what can be collected from the wrist. From that data, Oura’s algorithms calculate your resting heart rate and heart rate variability (HRV).
If you aren’t already familiar with HRV, here’s the super simple version: As you know, you have a heartbeat; let’s say it’s 60 beats per minute. What you may not know is that the time between those beats varies. If your heart rate is 60 beats per minute, that doesn’t mean it’s hitting a beat exactly every second. Sometimes it will be 0.9 seconds, other times 1.3 seconds, and so on. Sounds like a bad thing, but it’s actually a good thing! The goal is to have high variability (reflected in a high HRV score), because that means your heart is in good condition to react, respond, and recover from all the ups and downs life throws your way. A high HRV is the sign of a healthy heart. (For a deeper look at HRV, check out this article from Harvard Medical School.)
So what does that have to do with meditation? A low heart rate and a high HRV correlates to lower stress levels, and vice versa. A 2015 study looked at the effect self-help interventions including mindfulness meditation and slow breathing exercises had on stress-reduction and — long study short — participants were able to increase their HRV with guided breathwork. Additionally, the results showed a reduction in stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms, plus improved psychological well-being and sleep quality.
With an eye on HRV, you can self-study how different meditation sessions affect you physiologically, leading you to develop the most effective routine for your unique needs. Additionally, you’ll get a new way to track progress: compete with yourself to increase session time, decrease resting heart rate, and raise HRV.
To start a Moment, tap the + button in the app home view. Before you begin, you’ll select a session length and set your soundscape (or opt for a silent session).
Moment was intentionally designed to be versatile because mindfulness is personal — there is no right or wrong way to take a breather. With Moment, there are no prescriptive programs or must-follow instructions. You can cue up your favorite guided meditation app or video, or go freeform with your own practice. (Don’t have a favorite guided meditation program? Here are a few we like: Oak, Waking Up, Calm, Headspace.)
All that Moment requires is that you are as still as possible so that Oura can collect the most precise measurements possible, just like it does when you’re asleep. Too much movement will distract the ring’s optical tracking and disrupt the delicate beat-by-beat difference seen in the pulse, leading to less accurate data. For best results, find a comfortable position before beginning and try to remain still (your mind and body will thank you!).
When you wrap up, you have the option to tag your session type and rate how it went. Then you’ll get the sweet, sweet reward of insights. The longer your session, the more in-depth your stats will be.
Currently, Moment is only available for iPhone users with a second generation ring and app version 2.6.0 or later. We will launch Moment on Android later this year.
Looking to get better rest? Consider meditation. Through decades of scientific study, researchers across the world have found the centuries-old practice to have a seriously beneficial effect on sleep. With meditation, you can train your body and mind to enter a sleep state more easily, plus increase your body’s natural production of sleep-friendly hormones while squashing the symptoms of stress that make sleep difficult.
Research conducted by India’s National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences scrutinized dozens of studies on the topic of meditation and its regulatory role on sleep, with studies ranging from early mind-body research in the 1960s to present day analysis. Their review found a positive correlation between meditation and sleep across a mind-blowing number of bodily functions including brainwaves, hormone production, cardiovascular system, and oxygen consumption.
Like a good nap, meditation recharges and refreshes the mind and body with both short and long term benefits. Physiologically, there are actually a lot of similarities between sleep and meditation: both boost your growth hormone and DHEA while reducing the stress hormone cortisol. Even your brainwave activity is stimulated in a similar way, boosting the alpha, theta, and delta waves while reducing beta waves, which are associated with stress and anxiety.
By resting the mind during the day — with meditation, breathing exercises, or other periods of stimuli-free stillness — not only do we get all of those great hormonal and brainwave benefits, but it actually helps us learn to access a rested state more easily.
In the 1970s, Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School and a pioneer in mind-body research coined the phrase “relaxation response” as a scientific term for meditation. In this state, the brain and body enter a deep physiological shift, seeing a decrease in activity across the body’s muscles and organs.
The relaxation response is thought to be the opposite of the stress response (AKA “fight or flight”) and has been thought to improve the immune and digestive systems, plus restore circulation. By training your mind to enter this relaxed state during the day, you can get to sleep more easily at night, and even get better quality rest. It’s like building a muscle or a skill: the more you practice entering a rested state while you’re awake, the easier rest will come at night.
Many sleep disorders are thought to be tied to stress, which boosts cortisol while suppressing melatonin, the hormone involved in regulating sleep/wake cycles. In a year-long study of older adults with moderate sleep disturbance, UCLA researchers found mindful awareness practices to be significantly effective in remedying sleep issues in the short term. Mindful meditation was also shown to reduce the effects of sleep-related daytime impairment (you know the ones — tired, cranky, unfocused). It was also shown to reduce insomnia symptoms, depression symptoms, fatigue interference, and fatigue severity.
In fact, the Sleep Foundation suggests meditation as an all-natural, medication-free way to treat insomnia, noting that the practice has been shown to reduce the use of sleeping pills, likely because meditation reduces measures of arousal in the brain (training that relaxation response and making sleep easier!).
And, as we’ve learned, meditation not only decreases cortisol (sleep’s enemy) but it also increases melatonin (sleep’s close, personal friend). So not only are you teaching your body to enter a more relaxed state more easily and release more of the hormone that’s going to help you sleep, you’re also working to diminish sleep-preventing stress in the first place. In short, meditation is safe, effective, and free to try — why not give it a shot today, and see how your Sleep Score looks tomorrow?
Tutorial: Quick Weekday Analysis with Oura Cloud and Google Sheets
This quick tutorial was originally published in the Oura Insider newsletter. If you want to be the first to get the latest news and tutorials like this, make sure you’re subscribed here.
Is Monday as bad as people say it is? Is your heart rate lower on certain days? In this quick tutorial we’ll be using a CSV export from Oura Cloud and a Google Sheets template to figure that out.
This is a step-by-step guide so it’ll be fairly lengthy, but the idea is simple. All you need is an Oura ring and a Google account. This is the type of chart you’ll be making, with your own data of course. The charts shows your average lowest heart rates by weekday.
1. Export a CSV from Oura Cloud
1. Log into Oura Cloud with your Oura account.
2. Navigate to Trends from the left-hand navigation.
3. Make sure Lowest Resting HR is the only metric.
4. Make sure you’ve chosen Daily in the top right corner.
5. Choose the time period you want to look at by dragging the selector.
6. Click Export Data and click Download
2. Duplicate a ready-made Google Sheet template
1. Open this Google Sheet
2. Log in to your Google account if you’re not logged in already. From the top navigation, choose File > Make a Copy… If it’s greyed out, you need to log in.
3. Save the new spreadsheet to someplace nice
4. The sheet will be empty except for a chart that says No data. That’s OK.
3. Import the CSV
1. In your copy of the Google Sheet, click File > Import…
2. Choose the last tab “Upload”. Drag and drop in the Oura Cloud CSV file you exported in step 1.5.
3. A dialog box will pop up. You’ll need to make sure these options have been chosen:
– Append to current sheet
– Detect automatically
4. Click Import data
5. You’ll see dates in column A and numbers in column B. We’re almost there, but we’ll need to do some formatting to make the chart easier to read.
4. Clean up the formatting
1. Choose everything in column A. You can do that by clicking on the header cell that says A.
2. Go to Format > Number > More Formats > More Date and Time Formats…
3. Click on the Day.
4. Choose the Day as abbreviation (Tue).
5. Delete all other metrics (such as Month or Year). Click on the name, then choose Delete. Click Apply.
6. The chart should look better now but it still has some unwieldy decimals that make it hard to read.
7. Choose everything in column B. Tap the Increase Decimals icon twice.
8. Done! The chart now shows you your average lowest resting heart rates per weekday. What differences can you see? If you want to see what affects your night-time heart rate, read this article.
Please note that the chart starts from whatever day is in cell A2. In the example the first day is a Monday, so the chart starts from Monday. For the fastest way to choose the starting day, remove rows from the top until whatever day you want to start with is in cell A2. (It may not be pretty, but it gets the job done.)
Oura Cloud – How to make the most of your trends view
Oura users who want to take a deeper look at their data, beyond on the robust information offered in the app, can do so with Oura Cloud. It’s your personal dashboard for the data that the Oura ring and app collect and analyze from and for you.
Here’s a quick recap of what the Oura Cloud is – along with a primer on the Trends View. We must say, we’re pretty excited about Oura Cloud and we hope you are too! We’re always continuing to tinker with Oura Cloud, which means we’ll keep making it even better and adding new features from time to time.
What You’ll Learn in This Article
What Oura Cloud brings to tracking your readiness, sleep and activity
What is the Trends View and how to use it
What you can learn from your long-term trends
What is Oura Cloud?
As said, Oura Cloud is the personal dashboard to your Oura data. Once you’ve logged in at cloud.ouraring.com with your Oura account details, you’ll see two major views:
Dashboard View, where you can check out your daily sleep, activity and readiness data (newest sleep data being the default view)
Trends View, which we’ll talk more about next, so keep on reading
Basically, Oura Cloud shows you a more in-depth view on the data and visualizations that are available in the Oura app. In the Dashboard View, you can see more exact numbers behind your sleep, activity and readiness contributors than in the app (e.g. percentages). In addition, there are some more specific visualizations available, such as your heart rate variability (HRV) curve from the night.
Visualizing Weekly and Monthly Trends with Oura Cloud
What about the Trends View, the new kid in town, then? We at Oura believe that what matters is your long-term wellbeing: the balance between your load and recovery from week to week, month to month. That’s also why we’re certain that you’ll be interested in the Trends View.
The Trends View shows you how well you sleep, move and recover in the longer run. What you see is averages of your data, because as said, when we look at trends, we’re not that interested in a value from a specific day, but how we’re doing in general.
In practice, you can choose from several measures and scores Oura tracks and analyzes, and see how it changes or fluctuates over time. You can, for example, examine whether your sleep or readiness score changes over the year. In addition to the score or measure, you can select the timeline you want to view (the whole year, January to March…), and choose from three data analysis options: your daily values, weekly or monthly averages.
The result is a graph that visualizes how you’re doing – in all of its glory, or perhaps occasional astonishment. We at Oura are most excited about the weekly and monthly trends, because they reveal the big picture and show whether we are progressing or regressing with our sleep, recovery or activity.
What Can You Learn From Trends?
So, what can you learn from your trends? In our opinion, a lot about you, your lifestyle and how your environment influences your wellbeing. Here are some examples of what we have learnt about ourselves:
People have different types of rhythms, but when it comes to sleep, our bodies seem to appreciate routines. For example, the trends data has showed us that people who tend to be active in the evenings, but should follow the 8am to 4pm office routine, really seem to suffer from social jetlag on Mondays. If your sleep schedule is significantly different on weekends, you might see a dip in the sleep quality curves.
You can also track how different seasons influence your sleep quality and readiness. Here in the northern parts of Finland we’re interested in knowing how big of an effect the winter darkness and the midnight sun actually have on our sleep.
You might want to track down the weeks in a month when you always seem to be the most ready for heavy training. As an example, for women, the best time to do the high(est) intensity workouts is the first half of the menstrual cycle.
If you travel a lot, you could be interested in knowing how much it affects your long-term readiness.
Or maybe you want to check whether your readiness score jumps up during your holiday periods. (Does it?)
Comparing Trends in Oura Cloud
The Trends View guides you in getting the bigger picture of your wellbeing. But this is not the whole story with trends. In addition to learning interesting and important things from a single trend, you can extend your knowledge about yourself and your lifestyle by comparing different trends. Just add a chart, select the metrics you want to track in the drop-down menus, and start digging deeper into the correlations between your readiness, sleep and activity.
Are you ready to start exploring? Log in to your Oura Cloud and jump right in. And as said, we’re developing Oura Cloud further all the time, so we’ll keep you posted on new features.
Stages of Sleep: The Definitive Guide for the Curious
Sleep is an active state – even though you don’t remember most of what happens during the night. You go through different stages of sleep, some of which are as different from each other as they are from being awake.
There are 5 stages of sleep that follow each other in a cyclical fashion: wake, relaxed wakefulness, light sleep, deep sleep and REM sleep. After reading this article, you’ll have a basic understanding of the sleep stages, what happens during them and how they affect you during the day.
Do you ever get the feeling that life is made up of two parts? On one hand, there are the hours you spend awake – being active, thinking, feeling, being you – and on the other the hours you spend asleep, your brain switched off and toes tucked away under the sheets.
It’s as if there were two stages of being, ON and OFF:
Since the advent of electric light, we’ve increasingly ignored and misunderstood sleep: It’s a necessary evil. It’s an inactive state. It’s the human stand-by mode. Why sleep when you could watch just one more episode on Netflix or go to Mars? However, with advances in science and technology, and a budding revolution in attitudes towards sleep, we may be ready to throw these ideas into the dustbin of history and embrace a non-binary view on human existence and see that there is no ON/OFF for us. Rather, there are three stages of being that are inextricably intertwined, each one affecting the others:
These three states of being are found in nearly all mammals and birds: wakefulness, Non-REM sleep and REM sleep. From a physiological viewpoint they are as different from each other as sleeping is from being wide awake. You just don’t notice it – mainly because you’re asleep.
– Are you dreaming?
– Fly me to the Moon, Elvis.
NREM vs REM Sleep
We know surprisingly little about sleep, despite the fact that it’s such a defining feature of our existence. For two thirds of the day we go about our business – live, love, eat, file the taxes – and then we put our phones on silent, turn off the lights and go into this weird mini-hibernation mode for 6–9 hours. For parts of the night, our body is paralyzed and our brain plays a remix of events and situations that were and could be (called dreams). When we wake up, we don’t remember much of what happened and we’re still learning about why.
There are some things we do know.
All mammals and birds sleep. Their sleep is divided into two states: REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and Non-REM sleep. This is the three-fold division of our existence: we’re awake, we’re sleeping and we’re dreaming.
REM sleep is a stage in which the brain is active but the body is paralyzed. The name comes from the fact that during REM sleep our eyes dart about underneath our eyelids. It’s during REM sleep that we have our most vivid dreams.
Non-REM sleep is a stage in which the brain is relatively inactive and our body is movable. Non-REM is further divided into stages based roughly on how deep the sleep is and how difficult it is to rouse someone from it.
When you drift into sleep, you first go into the lighter stages of Non-REM sleep. Through these stages you move into REM sleep. This fairly predictable progression from Non-REM sleep to REM sleep is called a sleep cycle. In these 90–110-minute sleep cycles you sleep throughout the night.
What feels like a complete blackout, or time-traveling, is in fact a fairly structured process that follows a predictable yet varied course.
REM sleep accounts for approximately 20–25% of total sleep time, whereas NREM sleep stages account for the rest. If you sleep for 8 hours, the percentages translate to roughly 1.5 to 2 hours of REM sleep per night.
There are 5–6 stages of sleep, depending on which terminology you use. Fairly counterintuitively being awake can be counted as being one of them. According to the American Association for Sleep Medicine (AASM) classification, there are 5 stages of sleep:
Stage W: Wakefulness
Stage N1: Relaxed Wakefulness
Stage N2: Light Sleep
Stage N3: Deep Sleep, or Slow-Wave Sleep (SWS)
Stage R: REM Sleep: Dreaming
The N in N1–N3 refers to Non-REM sleep. The AASM classification is the one used by Oura, except that we have combined N1 and N2 stages into one stage called Light Sleep.
An earlier classification further divided N3 sleep into two separate stages. According to this classification these are stages of sleep:
Stage 1: Relaxed Wakefulness
Stage 2: Light Sleep
Stage 3: Slow-Wave Sleep (SWS)
Stage 4: Slow-Wave Sleep (SWS)
Stage 5: REM Sleep
Each sleep stage is characterized by changes in our physiology. However, the transitions between stages may not always be clear cut, partly because traditionally sleep has been assessed in 30-second epochs.
In the following sections we’ll go through each stage and take a look at what happens in your body during each stage, what you may experience and what are the functions of the different sleep stages.
What is REM Sleep
REM sleep is a sleep stage in which the brain is active but the body is paralyzed. Vivid dreams happen during REM sleep and your heart rate and respiration rate are increased. In terms of brain activity, REM sleep resembles wakefulness.
You tend to get more REM sleep later in the night. REM sleep may be completely absent from the first sleep cycles of the night. REM sleep is linked to the circadian rhythm of our body temperature: our core body temperature starts to drop off when we fall asleep and reaches a nadir in the early morning hours. If you go to bed much later than usual, you may skip the first cycles of sleep (including regenerative deep sleep stages) and even go straight to REM sleep.
According to studies on sleep deprivation, there seems to be a hierarchy when it comes to which sleep stages our bodies prioritize after loss of sleep: Deep sleep is recovered first, whereas REM sleep is recovered only after some nights of increased deep sleep.
REM sleep accounts for 20–25% of sleep in healthy, young adults. However, there are individual differences as well as night-to-night variation.
Physiology of REM Sleep
Rapid Eye Movements
Loss of muscle tone
Low amplitude mixed frequency EEG
Limited thermoregulation, shivering or sweating
Elevated heart rate
Elevated respiration rate
Experiences during REM sleep
Erections and blood flow to the genitals
Functions of REM Sleep
Learning and problem solving
What is Stage N1 Sleep
Stage N1 Sleep is a transition stage between wakefulness and the deeper stages of sleep. It is easy to wake up from this stage. During N1 you are aware of your surroundings but you become increasingly relaxed as you drift off to sleep. Illogical thoughts and sudden I-almost-fell-off-the-top-of-the-world twitches are normal during this stage of sleep.
During the first sleep cycle, you usually spend less than 10 minutes in Stage N1 sleep. It accounts for approximately 5% of total sleep time. If you sleep for 8 hours, 5% is 24 minutes in total.
Physiology of N1 Sleep
Core body temperature drops at sleep onset
Slow eye movements
Lack of sleep spindles in the EEG
Experiences during N1 Sleep
Illogical thoughts when drifting off to sleep
Reduced awareness of surroundings
Functions of N1 Sleep
Transition from wakefulness to the deeper stages of sleep
What Is Stage N2 Sleep
Stage N2 sleep is stage of light, regenerating sleep. It is still relatively easy to wake up from this stage of sleep.
As you fall asleep, the muscles in your upper airway relax and make your airways narrower. Have you ever wondered how you know someone has fallen asleep watching the TV? Even if you don’t see whether their eyes are open or not? It is often the sound of their breathing that gives them away.
N2 stage sleep makes up the majority of our sleep: 45–50% in healthy young adults. With 8 hours of sleep, that is 3.5–4 hours of N2 stage sleep per night.
Physiology of N2 Sleep
Presence of EEG patterns: K complexes and sleep spindles
Decreased heart rate
Decreased blood pressure
No eye movements
Experiences during N2 Sleep
Brief arousals from sleep
Functions of N2 Sleep
Rest and recuperation
What is Stage N3 Sleep
Stage N3 sleep, deep sleep or slow-wave sleep (SWS) is the most rejuvenating and restorative sleep stage. During deep sleep, the glymphatic system removes waste, such as neurotoxins and beta-amyloids, from the brain.
It’s very difficult to wake up from deep sleep. If you’ve ever had to take an early morning flight and woken up groggy and disoriented, it may be because you were in deep sleep. There are several ways to get more deep sleep, from establishing good sleep hygiene to taking hot showers before bed. However, keep in mind that all stages of sleep are important for health and good-quality sleep, not only deep sleep.
The amount of deep sleep declines with age. Older adults often report waking up more often during the night which is linked to the decline of deep sleep.
Physiology of N3 Sleep
EEG: slow-wave brainwaves
Decreased heart rate
Decreased blood pressure
Release of growth hormone
No eye movements
Experiences during N3 Sleep
Very difficult to wake up from deep sleep
If awoken, disorientation and grogginess
Functions of N3 Sleep
Cell repair and rejuvenation
Removal of waste from the brain: glymphatic system
Sleep Cycles: Putting it All Together
As we’ve seen, sleep is not a uniform block of nothingness. During the night, different stages follow each other in fairly predictable patterns, called sleep cycles. A normal cycle starts from N1, goes through N2 to N3 and then back up towards REM sleep.
The average length of a sleep cycle changes throughout the night. The first sleep cycle is usually shorter than following cycles, clocking in at 70–100 minutes. The average length of the sleep cycle later during the night is 90–110 minutes. If you sleep for 8 hours, you’ll usually go through five full cycles.
Deep sleep predominates the first cycles of the night. On the other hand, REM sleep predominates the sleep cycles of the last third of the night. This is why one way to ensure you get enough deep sleep is to stick to a regular bedtime: if you go to bed later in the night, you may skip the first sleep cycles of the night and go straight to the REM-predominated cycles.
Stages of Sleep Over Multiple Nights
There’s a phenomenon called the first-night effect that has been observed in sleep studies. In short, it means that whenever someone goes to a sleep lab, their first night’s sleep may be very different from a normal night’s sleep. It might be better, or might be worse, depending on the person. The main thing is that it’s different.
That’s why it’s important to look at sleep over the long term, over several days, weeks and months even. Just like one bad night of sleep won’t ruin the next day, neither will one night of good sleep necessarily fix problems that have been going on for longer.
By looking at multiple nights, you can start seeing how the stages of sleep affect each other. For example, deep sleep has been found to have a rebound effect: if you don’t get enough deep sleep one night, the amount of deep sleep the next night may be higher. The same goes for REM sleep.
And it’s not only one night affecting the next night. There’s also the day in between – the choices that you make during that day – that has a profound effect. The night is the mirror of the day, and wake and sleep are deeply connected.
How Does Scoring Sleep Work
Traditionally, the stages of sleep have been measured and scored in a sleep lab, based on three polysomnographic measures and their variation as you move from one stage of sleep to the next. They are: muscle tone, eye movements and brain activity.
Electromyogram (muscle tonus)
The electromyogram (EMG) measures your muscle tone, how relaxed and pliable your muscles are. By placing electrodes under your chin, a sleep technician can measure your muscle tone throughout the night. During REM sleep, your body becomes paralyzed and you lose muscle tone.
Electroculogram (eye movements)
Rapid eye movements are one of the tell-tale signs of REM sleep. Electrodes placed near the eyes can track how much and in which direction your eyes are moving during the night.
Electroencephalogram (brain activity)
Brain waves or electric activity in the brain are measured with an EEG device, with electrodes placed on your scalp. Slow-wave sleep, or deep sleep, gets its name from the slow delta waves that predominate the EEG chart. In the images you can also see the EEG patterns, such as sleep spindles and K-complexes that happen during N2 stage sleep.
How Do Sleep Trackers Define Sleep Stages?
Commercially available sleep trackers use a variety of sensors to detect different stages of sleep. The more advanced sleep trackers available for use at home, like the Oura ring, track sleep and sleep stages based on data collected from the 3D accelerometer (movement), heart rate sensor (heart rate, pulse wave amplitude) and body temperature sensor.
Here Today. Gone Tomorrow: What Affects Sleep Stage Distribution
There are many factors that affect your sleep stage distribution, including age, previous nights, circadian rhythms, temperature, drugs and sleep disorders.
Age: Infants, Kids, Young Adults, Old Age
Infants and kids have a very different sleep stage distribution from that of healthy young adults which is described in this article. Sleep is important in all stages of our life, especially in adolescence as we’re growing and our cognitive abilities are developing.
As we age, it seems that there is more variability between individuals.
Generally speaking, the older you are, the less deep sleep you tend to get. Especially older men get less deep sleep as they age. As we know, it’s harder to wake up from the deeper stages of sleep and as a result older people tend to wake up more often during the night. Their sleep becomes more fragmented and their sleep efficiency is lower. Older people also tend to take more naps during the day which affects their sleep during the night.
Older people also tend to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier because their circadian rhythm is pushed forward. Staying active and getting sun light at the right times helps set the circadian clock.
Sleep is a homeostatic process. How much sleep you need depends on how much good-quality sleep you have got recently. It also depends on brain metabolism. The more active your brains have been, the more sleep you need.
If you’ve been sleep deprived, you’ll often see a rebound in the amount of deep sleep on the first night after sleep loss.
In addition to the homeostatic sleep drive, also circadian rhythms affect your sleep. It’s easier to fall asleep at certain times of the day: in the early morning hours as well as in the afternoon.
If you go to bed later than usual, in the early morning, you may jump straight to REM sleep.
The temperature of the room you sleep in may affect your sleep stages. Extreme temperatures, both too cold and too hot, have a tendency to disrupt our sleep, especially REM sleep, because our body’s ability to thermoregulate is lower during REM sleep.
Some drugs suppress REM sleep, while others suppress deep sleep. A glass of wine may help you fall asleep faster but tends to lower the quality of sleep.
Sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy, can have an effect on sleep stages. In sleep apnea, both the amount of REM and deep sleep may be suppressed.
Sleep Stages. So What?
Do you feel rested and energized during the day? If you do, you don’t have to worry about sleep stages. Your body is doing its job and stressing over percentages or minutes spent in each stage is counterproductive. Following basic sleep hygiene takes you 90% of the way towards better sleep.
Do you feel tired during the day? Do you usually fall asleep right as your cheek hits the pillow? Starting your journey towards better sleep and better health can start with tracking your sleep stages. If you see that you’re consistently not getting enough deep sleep, it could be a sign of something that should be checked by a sleep professional.
And finally, do you feel rested, energized and curious? If you’re the type of person who likes to keep tabs on their physiology or see how their body reacts to daytime activities, consider getting a sleep tracker that tracks the stages of sleep. You might unlock the keys to better health and productivity by seeing what has previously been unseeable.
iOS users can now import workouts from Apple’s Health app into the Oura app. Read more.
Updated shipment status and schedules
Shipment Status and Schedules
Below you’ll find the updated shipment statuses and estimates based on order date. We’ve added percentages of orders shipped for Group A and B.
GROUP A: Pre-Order Placed in 2017
88% of orders were shipped by October 5
GROUP A: Percentage of orders shipped
Heritage Silver: 94%
Heritage Stealth: 99%
Heritage Black: 91%
Heritage Rose: 71%
Balance Black: 82%
Balance Rose: 31%
Balance Silver: 96%
Balance Diamond: 100%
Total shipped: 88%
Shipment estimates for the remaining models and sizes is detailed in the table below
Models / Sizes
The delays on titanium covers for some of the models and sizes are still affecting the ring shipments for Group A. Our factory is making rings nearly at maximum capacity and orders in Group A are our top priority. We’ll ship the remaining orders of Group A as soon as possible. Please note we’re making the rings in large batches, one ring model and size at a time. We then send out the rings to those who are first in line for that size and model. That is why some rings in Group B have been shipped already.
The titanium covers for the unshipped rings have been ordered already, and we’ll be making the rings based on the current list of orders. If you want to change your ring model, it will result in a delay for your order.
GROUP B: Pre-Order Placed: January 1 – May 31, 2018
34% of orders were shipped by October 5.
70% of rings estimated to be shipped by October 31.
Remaining rings estimated to be shipped by November 15
GROUP B: Percentage of orders shipped
Heritage Silver: 43%
Heritage Stealth: 70%
Heritage Black: 22%
Heritage Rose: 21%
Balance Black: 24%
Balance Rose: 8%
Balance Silver: 34%
Balance Diamond: 89%
Total shipped: 34%
GROUP C: Order placed: June 1 – Aug 8, 2018
First shipments sent by October 15
90% of shipments sent by November 30
The majority of new orders after August 8 will be shipped out after the orders in Group C.
The latest shipment estimates are also available in our FAQ page.
What Oura Ring Users Are Saying
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Available Now for Oura App on iOS: Import Workouts from Apple’s Health App
The Oura app for iOS now supports importing workouts from Apple's Health app. Track a training session with your favorite fitness tracker, sync it to the Health app and your workout will automatically appear in your Oura app, on your timeline and in the Activity View. This feature is only available with the Oura app for iOS.
In a Nutshell: Importing Workouts
Update the Oura app. Allow workout imports from the pop-up window.
New workouts from Health are automatically synced to the Oura app
See the workout timing, duration, name and burned calories (if your tracker calculates them) in the Oura app
Workouts are imported for the current day only. They’re included in your activity and recovery calculations.
Easier Workout Tracking
The ability to import workouts from Health has been a much-requested feature from our iOS users. It comes in especially handy for workouts when you can’t or don’t want to wear the ring.
Working Both Ways: See Your Health Data in Apple Health
In addition to importing workouts, you can now export your night-time resting heart rate and average respiratory rate values to Health. Previously you’ve been able to export your bedtime and total sleep time, lowest nocturnal resting heart rate, active energy (activity burn), your height and weight.
After you have connected the Oura app with Health, you can control what you import and export from within the Health app.
Something to Keep in Mind
Please note that some fitness and activity trackers count calories differently from Oura. The Oura ring and app calculate active calories, which only include the extra calories you burn during exercise, not your basal metabolic rate. Some fitness trackers calculate active calories + basal metabolic rate.
For detailed instructions and other frequently asked questions, have a look at this Oura Support Page.