What is HRV? And why is it important to my sleep and athletic performance?

What is HRV? And why is it important to my sleep and athletic performance?

You may have heard the term HRV recently.  This measurement has gained popularity in the past couple of years, correlating with the rise in fitness and sleep trackers.  Its increase in popularity among athletes has to do with the fact that it can be used to assess the body's readiness for athletic performance, as well as its sleep quality.

In this blog post we’ll explore the importance of HRV, how it is calculated, what is considered a healthy range for active adults, and how it can be used to improve athletic performance and sleep quality. 

What is HRV?

HRV, or heart rate variability, is a metric that measures the variation in time between heartbeats. To understand HRV, it is important to understand the heart's electrical activity. When the heart beats, an electrical impulse travels through the heart, causing it to contract and pump blood. The time between each heartbeat can vary, and HRV measures this variation. A high HRV indicates that the heart is more adaptable to change, while a low HRV can indicate that the body is experiencing stress and is not adequately recovered.

To measure HRV, you will need to use a heart rate monitor or fitness tracker with a built-in HR monitor. These devices detect electrical impulses generated by the heart and can measure the time between each heartbeat. The variation between heartbeats is measured in milliseconds and is used to calculate an HRV score. There are different methods for calculating HRV, but the most common method is to use the root mean square of successive R-R intervals (RMSSD).

What’s a “healthy” HRV?

A healthy HRV score for an active adult can vary, but typically a score between 50-70 ms is considered healthy. However, it is important to keep in mind that HRV scores can vary depending on an individual's age, sex, and fitness level. For example, an athlete may have a higher HRV score than a sedentary individual.

HRV and athletic performance

Medical professionals have discussed the importance of HRV for athletes. Dr. Michael Clark, a sports medicine physician, has stated that "HRV is an important measure of an athlete's recovery and readiness to train. By tracking HRV, athletes can adjust their training to maximize performance and avoid overtraining." By monitoring HRV, athletes can determine when they need to increase or decrease the intensity of their workouts or take a rest day.

Endurance athlete Rich Roll has also talked about the importance of HRV and how it has helped him improve his training. In an interview with Outside Online, he stated, "HRV is a key indicator of how well my body is recovering from workouts. By monitoring my HRV, I can adjust my training to maximize my performance and avoid injuries."

HRV improvement and sleep

“We know that sleep is important for recovery and regeneration, and it is well established that HRV is higher during sleep, particularly non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM),” said Dr. Greg Wells.  “This is why if you’re feeling stressed or burnt out, a simple solution is to just get a good night’s sleep!”

The relation here is cyclical too - by improving sleep quality, an individual can increase their HRV score and improve their athletic performance. Therefore, it is essential to prioritize sleep - by implementing healthy sleep habits, such as maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bedtime, and creating a sleep-conducive environment - in order to help boost HRV levels.

How to improve HRV levels

When an individual's HRV score is lower than normal, there are several things they can do to improve it. 

  1. Firstly, it is important to take a break from physical activity and allow the body to rest and recover. 
  2. Secondly, implementing stress-reduction techniques, such as meditation, can help reduce stress and improve HRV. 
  3. Lastly, getting adequate sleep is essential for maintaining a healthy HRV score. By prioritizing sleep, an individual can improve their HRV score and overall health.

Conclusions on HRV

The relationship between HRV and athletic performance is significant. By monitoring HRV, athletes can determine when they need to increase or decrease the intensity of their workouts. Sleep is one of the best and easiest levers that an athlete can cater to in order to help boost HRV levels.  If you’re looking to be best prepared for a big workout or competition make sure your body and its nervous systems are prepared by achieving optimal sleep. 

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