Measuring Sleep with Whoop™

Columbia University’s Women’s Tennis Head Coach’s three favorite letters are GTS.

Go To Sleep!
When I was a student athlete, sleep was underrated. Nobody was talking about sleep, nutrition, recovery, mental health… These are all issues that have only come up in the last few years, but have made a huge impact in the life of athletes.

We have Roger Federer at 40 years old still winning Grand Slam Titles. Lebron James, still winning NBA Finals at 35 years, 287 days after his last win. The examples go on and on about how athletes are able to elongate their careers by focusing on important aspects that were not paid much attention in the past: sleep, recovery, and nutrition.

One of the most important is sleep. It is a natural state of the mind, which allows for our bodies (and brains) to rest, heal, and recover. 

If I asked you right now how many hours you slept last night, you would probably say around 6 or 7 hours (4 or 5 if you’re a student-athlete), but let me ask you this: did you really sleep that amount, or was that the amount of time you spent in bed? You probably do not have an answer.

Measuring heart rate
But I do, because I consider myself a sleep geek. I have a wearable piece of technology, called Whoop, on me at all times that measures my heart rate 100 times per second, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

This amazing tech product gives daily personalized insights on the ‘Big 3,’ which are strain, sleep and recovery. 

But why is this important? As athletes, we are putting extreme amounts of stress on our bodies during our day-to-day activities. Not only physically, but mentally as well. In that sense, the Whoop™ helps you understand the balance that has to exist between building strain, strength, and endurance during our workouts, but also leaving plenty of time to sleep, rest, and recover. 

Stages of Sleep
The Whoop™ measures all the different stages of sleep: awake, light, deep, and REM. Therefore, you might think you are sleeping 6 or 7 hours a night, but are you really spending enough time in the deep and REM stages, which are the most important stages of sleep for recovery purposes?

The Whoop™ also measures disturbances throughout the night. Disturbances are points during the night where your body transitions from the awake to the light sleep stages. On any given night, you can experience over 15-20 disturbances, which can significantly reduce your sleep time. But, you would not even know in the morning because most people do not remember waking up at all during the night.

Creating good sleeping habits
The tool that has helped me the most is the Whoop Journal. Every day when you wake up, you fill out a series of pre-programmed yes or no questions about the day before such as: Did you travel by plane? Did you hydrate enough? Did you have a late meal? Did you eat meat? Did you use your phone while in bed?

All these questions are variables that help the user understand some of the habits that are either helping or hurting their sleep. For example, through this tool I have been able to get valuable insights: 

• Having a late-night meal reduces my recovery by 10%

• Using my phone while in bed reduces my sleep by 10%

• Wearing earplugs to bed increases my sleep by 10%. 

These are all great insights that have helped me create better habits throughout the day, to make sure I am ready to rest and recover at night. And when I do not, Whoop™ holds me accountable. 

Sleeping has been a huge part of my success, as a coach, as a student-athlete, as a human being. Recovering properly day in and day out has given me the ability to take on all the different activities I do. I feel better, I feel more energized, I feel alive. And when I don’t, I take a step back and take care of my body. I focus on the habits that help me sleep better because I know I have to perform at the best of my ability the next day, in both athletic endeavors and in life.

* Originally published on October 18, 2021, by Carlos Carrera

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