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How I Improved My Chronically Low HRV – Strategy to Increase HRV While Sleeping

Previously, I wrote how the continuous HRV monitor by Lief Therapeutics has been a game changer for me to improve my HRV (read my previous articles here, here and here). But what are these game-changing actions that the continuous HRV monitoring helped me to take?

Though I find very helpful the vibration-based biofeedback, this is not why I consider the device a game-changer. Don’t get me wrong – deep breathing is one of the best ways to have an immediate positive impact on the HRV, and a frequent deep breathing will likely increase your average daytime HRV by making the score higher while you are making a conscious effort. Nevertheless, to my frustration, breathing exercises did not make better my nighttime HRV nor daytime baseline HRV when I’m not actively trying to improve my HRV.

Many other strategies resulted in only temporary HRV improvements without changing my baseline HRV. They include: Apollo Neuro, Neuvana, sniffing grapefruit essential oil (a study showed that sniffing certain fragrance such as grapefruit essential oil improves HRV), and vagus nerve exercises, like in the book “Accessing the Healing Power of Vagus Nerve”.

Cold exposure: In my previous post, I reported an incredible effect of a whole-body cold exposure to increase HRV. While I still consider it a very potent way to improve HRV instantly and highly recommend it as a great temporary HRV hack, I have not seen a strong evidence for myself that the improvement gets converted into a permanent increase of the baseline HRV.

Supplements such as a high dose of omega 3 and Parasym Plus (a proprietary mixture that targets at the parasympathetic nervous system) had no impact on my HRV, neither baseline nor temporary. (Omega 3: I have been taking it for years and merely increased the dose from 3 g of DHA & EPA daily to 4 g to see if it improves my HRV, which it didn’t. If you are not taking DHA/EPA at all, the effect might differ. )

Additionally, I tried a nasal oxytocin spray (24 IU) twice daily but experienced no HRV improvement whatsoever.

What puzzled me the most was that my HRV seemed to have very little to do with how I subjectively felt about my stress level. How, at the end of a very easy stress-free day, could I routinely see my HRV a low teen? Also, why was my HRV dropping precipitously whenever I was standing? In both situations, I was not experiencing any stimulus that would particularly stimulate my sympathetic nervous system. After countless days of staring at my Lief, I got an idea; Could it be a suboptimal cardiovascular system causing the low HRV, not an overactive sympathetic nervous system? Because my heart rate was elevated in both above situations, as if my heart had to work extra hard to keep me going late in a day or while on a standing position, it seemed worth exploring above hypothesis. So, I decided to reintroduce vigorous endurance trainings, which used to be a big part of my training regime bur during the recent years had become increasing less.

Picture to the left, HRV in late afternoon, on the right HRV while standing

Over 10 years ago, I injured my legs and had to go on crutches for a few months. Afterwards, I stopped running, an activity I previously used to do 3-4 times a week. As I continued lifting weights and walking regularly, I somehow assumed that it shouldn’t be a big deal to drop running. This significantly reduced the amount of endurance exercise that would get me out of breath, and especially during the past few years, when I no longer participated in gym classes like spinning, the amount of peak-zone endurance trainings had become almost non-existent.

In a hindsight, this must have significantly affected not only my cardiovascular fitness level but also HRV; After re-introducing running into my daily regime, my resting heart rate started to drop in a matter of just a few days. I was even more pleased that, as my RHR dropped, my HRV started to go up and UP! And both kept improving dramatically. After three months of reintroducing vigorous endurance exercises 4-6 times / week, my HR while sleeping dropped from 66 to 59 bpm, and my average nighttime HRV from an upper teen to lower 30s.

To the left: nighttime RHR, previously in a high 60s (sometimes even a low 70s) to low 60s/high 50s in just three months. To the right: Nighttime average HRV, increased from a mid/upper teen into a low 30s

Previously, my HRV at night could routinely drop to a low teen, and I was giving myself a high-five on occasions the number was in low 20s. Now, a mid-20 nighttime HRV may make me a sigh with a disappointment, as this has become my new lowest HRV range. After a restful night, my average nighttime HRV can easily be in the 30s now.

There are multiple studies that show the positive impacts of endurance exercises on vagus nerve tone i.e. HRV [1], [2] [3]. But initially, I was solely focused on finding the reasons for my chronically low HRV in stress and overactivated sympathetic nervous system, overlooking exercise.

Obviously, if your cardiovascular fitness is already optimized, adding more cardio-conditioning exercise is not likely going to improve your HRV. But if you find yourself in a similar situation like mine, the strategy might be worth considering. Please don’t start a high-impact exercise without speaking to your doctor first. Other than the low HRV, I consider myself healthy and also prior to resuming running, monitored my blood pressure and ECG daily with Withing Blood Pressure Cuff to ensure that I had no issue with half-an-hour of vigorous exercise.

Through the experience, I was once again reminded of the importance of self quantification, whether it is the effects of diet through regular blood marker testing or our estimated biological aging through test like GlycanAge. A continuous HRV monitoring can provide eye-opening insights that makes possible a personalized plan for optimizing your HRV. By making me realize how detrimental it was for me not to practice any vigorous endurance exercises, Lief truly made a lasting impact on my health even beyond HRV.

Get a nice discount with the discount coupon EEVA at checkout at Lief! The code is valid both for device purchase & rental.

[1] https://academic.oup.com/cardiovascres/article-abstract/26/7/713/265340
[2] https://academic.oup.com/cardiovascres/article-abstract/27/3/482/276610
[3] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10286-005-0251-1

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Podcast

Anders Olsson, How our breathing can affect our health, performance, and longevity

We all breathe as an absolute necessity, yet, many of us breathe sub optimally. In this interview, Anders, author of a highly rated book Conscious Breathing, walks us through the seven components of Conscious Breathing. We also discuss fascinating and less-discussed topics around breathing, such as the importance of carbon dioxide (CO2) in our body, sex hormones’ interactions with breathing and much more!

Timestamps

1:40 Anders’ path to become one of international leaders in breathing
4:40 What is Conscious Breathing; its seven habits
5:40 Importance of nasal breathing
6:40 Low breathing, not the same as deep breathing
9:10 Roles of oxygen and carbon dioxide (CO2) in our body, mitochondria, ROS
28:00 The importance of right posture
32:00 How to improve the lung and diaphragm muscles
34:30 Rhythm of breathing
38:00 Relaxator by Conscious Breathing; how it affects heart rate and HRV (heart rate variability)
42:00 How hormones affect our breathing
49:00 Sleeptape by Conscious Breathing
55:50 Relaxator’s positive effects on HRV
64:00 Habit #7: quiet breathing
65:30 Exciting future plans: breathing suit, breath analyzer

Show notes:
Conscious Breathing (book): https://amzn.to/3gZTMPn
Conscious Breathing website: consciousbreathing.com
Conscious Breathing on YouTube: youtube.com/channel/UCLQxVTiCgSG2Sz0Q…
On Facebook: facebook.com/groups/consciousbreathing2
On Instagram: instagram.com/consciousbreathing/

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Podcast

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) Training Wearable: Rohan Dixit Interview CEO Lief Therapeutics

What motivated Rohan, a former neuroscientist at prestigious academic institutes, to turn into a health wearable entrepreneur focusing on technologies for meditation, mindfulness, and HRV? After an year with monks in Tibetan mountains and scanning their brains on meditation, Rohan discovered the power HRV to heal our mind. Rohan and I dive deep into HRV, HRV wearables,, HRV training with biofeedback, and much more! 

https://kenkohacks.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/rohan.mp3
Rohan Dixit
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Article

How Does Autonomic Nervous System Affect Health?

If you’ve been following my blog, you may already know that I’m very keen on learning about and improving my HRV through a continuous HRV monitoring. Why focus on HRV, you may ask.

It seems intuitive that autonomic nervous system (ANS), that regulates body’s vital functions like breathing, temperature and digestion, affects the rest of our body. But in which ways does it affect the body’s overall health? Does low HRV (dominant sympathetic nervous system) affect the immune system and how? Keep reading, if you, like me, have ever wondered these questions.

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Article

Try this one thing to improve your HRV instantly

After posting my first article about continuous HRV monitoring with Lief, my journey to improve HRV continues. Today, Lief is an indispensable part of my lifestyle and attaching it on my chest is one of the first things I do every morning. Seeing live impacts of an action, a habit, an event etc. on my HRV when they’re happening is so powerful, allowing me to fine tune various aspects of my lifestyle in order to improve HRV.

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Article

Is standing workstation hurting Heart Rate Variability? How to improve HRV with continuous HRV monitoring

When my acupuncturist asked how my stress level was, my sincere answer used to be: “Not particularly stressed. My job is a deskwork writing emails and such. It’s not that stressful”. Little did I know!

After I started wearing my Oura ring, the most surprising findings were my deep sleep and very low nighttime HRV. (You can read my experience with hydrogen water that dramatically improved my deep sleep here.) Most of the nights my HRV was below 20, even I wasn’t training hard or facing a noticeable stress. Stress management should be #1 priority for anyone interested in hacking their health, and so I decided to dig deeper.