Sleep is taken for granted. CEOs and your mate at the pub boast about how busy they are and how little sleep they get. Those same people will also boast about how they hit their fitness targets. It’s rare to hear people boasting or even having sleep targets. But it’s a crucial part of staying healthy. So what if we started to treat sleep like fitness?
That is exactly what a small unassuming black strap on your wrist aims to do. The WHOOP is the latest fitness tracker on the market – think Fitbit or Garmin only without a screen – and was developed by Harvard University students. It was specifically designed to capture data to help prevent overtraining, injuries and ultimately optimise human performance. Pretty lofty goals.
What is the way it will capture data to do those things? By looking at exercise as more than merely closing rings on a watch. It looks at fitness and recovery as two parts of a whole. The in-app language for this is ‘strain’ and the idea is to have a low strain. Too high and it means the body isn’t getting enough recovery time. Too little and it may mean you have to up the intensity. The main take away from it though is that workouts and recovery are not two isolated events, they work in tandem.
WHOOP records recovery as anything that isn’t causing exertion. Makes sense. The exertion is obvious, you can either tell it you are doing a workout or it just figures it out by itself. The physical tracking of the strap is nothing remarkable but the premise of seeing recovery as part of those physical metrics is. And guess what the most important part of recovery is?
It is sleep of course. Marketing Communications Manager of WHOOP Allison Lynch told D’Marge that WHOOP recognised how important sleep was. That was why there was a specific focus on it.
“When we sleep, our body repairs and regenerates tissues, builds bone and muscles, and strengthens the immune system. Because of its role in muscle and bone repair, sleep is incredibly important for athletes looking to make gains in fitness.”
The WHOOP app treats sleep as a fitness goal. Every sleep is given a performance percentage based on total hours of sleep received and the total amount needed. The total amount needed is not some stock standard response but rather it is based on the physiological profile of each individual. It can be eye-opening. This writer for one apparently requires 10 hours of sleep but only gets 6. Which certainly explains a lot. By presenting the sleep as a percentage WHOOP is effectively giving people a goal to work towards.
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That goal for many people will be more sleep and by showing the link between sleep and fitness WHOOP hopes to help people see how vital it is. Allison said that too many people took sleep for granted and weren’t overly concerned with their performance in the bedroom. But it was the first thing that everyone should be looking at when trying to improve any aspect of life.
“People say “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!”, but what they don’t realize is that a chronic lack of sleep has been connected to earlier mortality and an increase in health conditions. If you’re trying to improve in certain areas of your life, whether it’s athletics, academics, or in your job, then sleep is the first thing you should focus on.”
What WHOOP is doing is gamifying sleep by presenting it like it would a workout. There are over 500,000 posts on Instagram of people trying to close fitness rings on the Apple Watch which is all linked to fitness. Imagine if people were doing the same about the hours of sleep they got? That certainly seems to be the aim of presenting sleep in this way. And just like looking at the fitness statistics a lot can be learned from sleep tracking.
Beyond just knowing if you are getting enough sleep for your punishing workout routine the sleep tracker offers advice on how to get a better night’s sleep. For instance, alcohol does not improve sleep. A common misconception among users according to Allison.
“Many people think “I get better sleep when I drink,” when in reality they barely got any deep sleep, the stage necessary to repair the muscular, skeletal, and endocrine systems.”
Deep sleep needs to be the goal to get the most recovery time and get back to the gym faster. All that’s left now then is to improve sleep like you would your muscles.
Use it as an excuse to blow off that mate that always forces you to have “just one more”. Just tell them you’ve got to improve your sleep performance.