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Measuring sleep and stress

Sleeping this week has been a challenge for everyone, we have had fans in all the kids bedrooms and an air conditioning unit in ours just so the bedroom feels bearable! These new houses are great in the winter with all the insulation they put in, but in the summer it's like walking into a furnace when you get halfway up the stairs!!

Lack of sleep feels like a kind of torture, but I have never really seen the negative effects other than tiredness. Now I measure my HRV (heart rate variability) I can see much more clearly how my body is standing up to lack of sleep and other factors such as stress and illness. Before I looked at all these everyday was a training day to me, sometimes I think maybe that’s the way to go, just plough on with whatever training you’ve planned but now I have this information at my fingertips I think it would be silly to ignore it.

Heart rate variability is the physiological phenomenon of variation in the time interval between heartbeats. It is measured by the variation in the beat-to-beat interval. Variability refers to your heart beat's ability to shift throughout the day. Your heart rate is not meant to stay the same speed at all times; it changes depending on your activity and emotions. Think about your lowest heart rate and fastest heart rate. The difference between those is a reflection of your heart rate variability.

Having a high HRV means your body can efficiently change your heart rate depending on your activity. Your heart is supposed to be able to switch gears in a heartbeat so sometimes your heart may be beating at a steady 60 bpm when you watch TV, and other times you need that fight or flight response needs to be activated. A higher hrv score shows that your cardiovascular system is in great working order, a lower one means that you have underlying threats of heart attacks, strokes and diabetes. Heart rate variability may also be a marker of how well your body can handle stress. With a higher HRV, you can perform well under duress and your body will recover quicker.A low HRV, and it will be difficult to bounce back after a stressful situation.

I have looked at my HRV properly for around 6 months now and feel that watching your heart rate variability can give you an edge and a boost in performance. After a tough, intense workout, my HRV will be lower. When my HRV returns to normal, it tells me that I have fully recovered from this workout, which tells me it's safe to exercise again at that intensity, this helps me avoid overtraining. When I haven’t slept properly or when I am ill, my HRV will pick this up giving me a lower score, this helps me make changes (if I want to) to my sessions.

This week my HRV has been getting lower and lower, and I think it’s down to lack of good quality sleep and other outside factors such as stress. I have had a tough week due to family issues and this has helped my HRV plummet along with the tough sleeping temperatures at night. It's interesting to see how other issues away from your training will in fact interrupt it, with this way of tracking how I feel, it means I can be sensible and have more of an option in choosing how hard I go in the next session if I want.

This is called ‘smarter training’ and it will get you stronger, fitter, faster and help you progress towards your goals much quicker than guessing how your feeling and what you should be doing. If you want to look more closely about how your training is affecting you along with other factors that are out of your control, such as stress and fatigue then start looking at the many hrv apps you can download and use. All you need is a bluetooth heart rate monitor and chest strap, pop it on first thing in the morning, stand to attention and let your heart do the talking! Take heed though.. all this information should be used sensibly and nothing is 100% certain in life - except the fact that any form of exercise WILL improve you both physically and both mentally!!

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