What is Heart Rate Variability? Why you Should Measure
Your HRV (heart rate variability) can help you optimize your body’s recovery time and reduce fatigue. This includes how your body copes with stress. Good news is, it’s not as hard to track anymore.
Don’t you just wish for a looking glass that can provide a glimpse of your state of mind, health and well-being?
If you ever wonder how well your body is recovering each night, how your workout session might go, or what can you do to ensure you’re feeling on top of your game, you may find some answers in your sleep tracking data — or more specifically, your HRV.
What Is HRV?
While you may already routinely check your weight, blood pressure or glucose levels, you could also look at your heart rate variability.
HRV measures the variation in time between heartbeats, measured in milliseconds. It offers a way to check your well-being, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
HRV tracking could become more widely available as more health tech companies realize the importance of this marker for resilience and behavioral flexibility.
Athletes, for example, have known about and tracked their HRV for a while, using it to help build up their performance.
“We have used HRV in some of our rehabilitation and return to play programs to monitor the physiological recovery, and gain insight into managing the physical fatigue as well as establishing exercise intensity and the recovery programs of our athletes,” said Bryan “Flea” Engel, the Head Athletic Trainer of the Green Bay Packers.
“HRV allows us to obtain data concerning physiological changes in response to physical activity/rehabilitation/recovery of our athletes through a non-invasive method. By monitoring HRV we hope to optimize recovery and prevent fatigue as we prepare our athletes for a return from injury, in the preparation for competition and recovery from a contest,” Engel adds.
HRV is controlled by our autonomic nervous system (ANS), which regulates things such as heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and digestion. It’s divided into two parts:
- the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system and
- the parasympathetic (relaxation response) nervous system
Your hypothalamus in the brain constantly sends signals to the rest of your body, telling it when you should stimulate (fight or flight) or relax. These signals respond to what’s happening to you physically, emotionally and in your environment.
This means a poor night’s sleep, a big fight with your partner, good news from your family or an extra helping of dessert all affect your body’s response, and therefore your HRV.
When you have ongoing stressors—looming deadlines at work, a trying phase with your teen, too many nights of sleep deprivation—you’re prone to an overblown fight or flight response and your HRV measurement will reflect this.
Why Check Your HRV?
HRV data can tell you when these stressors are getting the best of your health. When you’re stressed out, the variation between your heartbeats trends lower. Conversely, when you’re relaxed, the variation trends higher.
A high heart rate variability means that you benefit from more energy, great recovery, easy relaxation, better physical and cognitive performance and an overall well-balanced heart and mind. High HRV is good because it shows that your body can relax and affectively recover when you sleep each night.
What Can HRV Tell You About Your Health?
People that have high HRV tend to have better cardiovascular fitness, can be more resilient to stress and may be managing their stressors well. source
Tracking your HRV can help give you clues about steps you can take to make healthier choices and even play a role in predicting how you feel and whether your workouts, sleep, mindfulness practices and self-care habits are paying off.
How Can You Track HRV?
Besides heading to your doctor’s office for an electrocardiogram, you can track HRV at home. For example, you can get a smart bed: the Sleep Number 360 smart bed with SleepIQ® technology, which tracks a sleeper’s average heart rate variability. TIP: If you’re already a Sleep Number bed owner with SleepIQ technology, you can view your HRV stats over time by logging in here. The HRV feature helps sleepers understand how their body recovers each night, and it helps keep tabs on their energy levels, relaxation, sleep stats and the balance of relaxation and stimulation. Your Sleep Number 360 smart bed can provide clues about your lifestyle and its effects on your wellbeing, so you can make adjustments when needed.
Because HRV tracking during nighttime sleep is more effective due to fewer external factors impacting its measurement, the Sleep Number 360 smart bed may be a tool to help optimize tracking and adjustments.
Do I Need To Worry About My HRV?
Don’t get too hung up if your HRV is very high or very low and doesn’t always correlate with how you’re feeling or what’s going on in your life.
Tracking your HRV is a tool to help motivate yourself and to keep you on a healthy path, much like a regular weigh-in. The numbers may vary, and further questions about your health and well-being are always best discussed with your doctor.
Because no two people sleep the same, Sleep Number 360® smart beds, with SleepIQ® technology, sense your movements and automatically adjust firmness, comfort and support to keep you both sleeping comfortably and provides proven quality sleep. Find your Sleep Number® setting for your best possible night’s sleep, and if you own a Sleep Number bed, log into your InnerCircle Rewards account to see your exclusive offers, refer friends and more.