An Introduction to Resting Heart Rate

Resting Heart Rate (RHR) is the number of times your heart beats per minute while you're at rest. It provides a snapshot of your sleep quality, recovery, stress response, activity level, and overall health.

Normal RHR in adults can range anywhere from 40-100 beats per minute (BPM). Oura develops an individualized baseline for your RHR so you can quickly notice when something is off.

Variation beyond 3-5 BPM above or below your personal average may be a sign of low recovery or excessive stress on your body, such as illness, poor diet choices, late-night eating, or lack of sleep.

The Importance of Resting Heart Rate

Resting heart rate is an indicator of both long and short-term health.

  • In the long-term, a low RHR is generally a sign of better cardiovascular health, physical fitness, and recovery.
  • In the short-term, a high RHR can indicate behaviors you have control over, such as internal stress, eating patterns, or exercise habits. These can be positive or negative, depending on the context. For example, completing a difficult workout is a positive precursor to an elevated RHR. Meanwhile, undergoing mental distress from work is generally viewed as a negative source of rises in RHR.

A Lower RHR is a Good Sign

With each heartbeat, your body uses the oxygen-rich blood collected from your lungs to support functions throughout your systems. When your resting heart rate lowers over time, each heartbeat becomes more effective. This allows your body to accomplish the same amount of work necessary to keep itself running with less effort.

As your heart becomes more efficient, you’re able to do more without increasing your heart rate, allowing your body to take on less strain.

With less strain, your body moves closer to a parasympathetic (“rest-and-digest”) state. The more that your parasympathetic nervous system dominates, the more room there is for your sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight) to come into action when needed. This might be necessary when you decide to exercise, give a presentation, interview for a new job, try something for the first time, or have to meet a deadline at work.

How Oura Measures Resting Heart Rate

Oura monitors your RHR throughout the night by detecting changes in your blood pulse volume through infrared PPG sensors found inside your ring.

Each time that your heart beats, blood is pumped out to the arteries located in your hands and fingers. The PPG sensors are able to detect these changes in blood flow and volume using light reflection. Each pulse causes the arteries in your finger to alternate between swelling and contracting. By shining a light on your skin, changes in light reflected back from the wavering volume of red blood cells in your arteries are accounted for. From here, PPG can represent these blood flow changes through a visual waveform that represents the activity of your heart.

As displayed in the Sleep view shown below, Oura provides you with the following RHR metrics:

  • Average RHR: Your average RHR captured during the night
  • Lowest RHR: Your lowest RHR value captured during the night
  • Your RHR Trace: Your RHR values captured every 10 minutes throughout the night, displayed in the graph view

You can find this data in your Readiness and Sleep tabs, as well as in Trends. Trends can be found in the menu (☰) located in the upper left-hand corner of your Home tab. Please see our article on using Trends for more information on how to get started with this feature.

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When Does Oura Measure My Resting Heart Rate?

Oura doesn’t track heart rate during exercise or other activities during the day. The only exception to this is Moment, which allows you to meditate or check-in with your body. Certain Moment sessions, upon completion, show you a snapshot of your RHR during the day.

If you’re interested in why Oura only focuses on measuring RHR and HRV during sleep, please visit our article titled, “What is Heart Rate Variability?” At the bottom of this article, we outline the importance of stability when measuring these metrics, a factor that can only be maximized during sleep.

Interpret Your Resting Heart Rate

Low vs. High, Compared to Your Average

If your lowest RHR of the night is roughly 0-10 BPM below your personal long-term average (collected over the past ~ 2 months), this is evidence that your body has recovered well and is in an optimal state to perform that day.

However, an exceptionally low resting heart rate may be an indication that you are in a zone of low nervous system arousal, otherwise known as lethargy (think of those days when you have very limited energy).

You’ll observe decreased Readiness Scores if you receive an RHR that is 10-15 BPM lower than usual, as well as if you receive an RHR that is 3-5 BPM higher than usual.

An elevated RHR is a sign that something is challenging your system to a degree that’s leading to poor recovery. Both of these scenarios are signs to pay attention and give your body the care and time that it needs to recover properly.

Patterns in Your RHR Trace

If your RHR reaches its lowest point during the first half of your night, it can be a sign you've recovered well from the previous day.

This ideal pattern is known as “The Hammock”, which you’ll see demonstrated below. If you’re interested in other patterns that your RHR may take on over the course of the night, check out this article for further information.

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This has to do with the concept of heart rate stabilization. The general idea behind heart rate stabilization is that your sleep is split into 2 parts— repair & recharge.

During repair, your body recovers from the previous day, and during recharge, your body gets ready for the coming day. Once your heart rate reaches its lowest point during the night (identifying “stabilization”), the transition from repair to recharge is made. Thus, the sooner your heart rate can reach its true nighttime low, the more time your body gets to spend refueling for the day ahead.

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