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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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Article

Health Wearable Review: Lief Continuous HRV Monitor by Lief Therapeutics

From the very first day I had Lief on, it changed my life completely providing insights previously unavailable. This may sound a little dramatic, but for me, who had no clue for why my HRV is routinely so lousy, continuous HRV data finally pinpointed which types of activities and/or life choices are hurting my HRV score.

But how is it like to use Lief? It comes with a wearable ECG hardware and an app that shows your HRV data. Are they easy to use? Which features do the app offer? Do I wish for any improvements? This article covers those and many other questions. If you are also interested in my personal HRV discoveries that I found out using Lief, you may find interesting these articles; “Is Standing Workstation Hurting HRV?”, “Try This One Thing to Improve Your HRV Instantly”.   

The Lief Wearable

Lief is a clinical-level ECG wearable, attached to the chest area with two adhesive electrode patches. I can usually reuse the same patches well over 3 weeks while wearing them every day. If the adhesives are getting weaker, you can wipe them with a wet paper/towel to make them sticky again.

Lief is flexible and adjusts to the body’s dynamic movements. As such, it’s super comfortable, and I often forget that I’m having it on me! It can be worn during sleep, too, and if you choose this option, you can turn off the biofeedback vibration (more about Lief’s biofeedback feature later) while you are asleep. I personally wear Lief during my aware time, because I’m primarily interested in discovering and implementing actionable insights to improve my HRV.

Lief wearable

ECG vs. Optical Sensors

Let us take a closer look at sensors, one of the key components while considering an HRV (or many other types of) wearable. The choice of sensors is important, because it affects the wearable’s accuracy greatly. When it comes to an accurate heart’s signal measurement, a direct measurement of the heart’s electronical signals with ECG is the clinical golden standard – that’s why you’ll be hooked to an ECG machine, when you go through a heart checkup at the doctor’s office. For a wearable, though, many manufacturers choose optical sensors instead, for a cost or other reason.

Optical sensors flash LEDs through the skin and detect blood flow. The resulting reflection of the light is converted into a heart rate via the wearable’s algorithm, making it more prone to inaccuracy. Moreover, there are two types of LEDs used for optical sensors: red and green. Optical sensors that emit green light can result in even less accurate data especially on a darker skin, because melanin, the skin’s color pigment, is an excellent absorber of the green light.    

In my interview with Rohan, founder & CEO of Lief Therapeutics, he shares fascinating background for why ECG sensors were the best and most natural choice for Lief.

In this Kickstarter page, you can see Lief wearable’s technical spec with a picture of the ECG sensors.

The Lief App

Live HRV tracking

The Lief app shows three variables; heart, HRV and HRV zone in a colored bar form. The HR and HRV are live data i.e. you will be seeing your HR and HRV of this moment. The HRV zone gets updated every 5 minutes, and the color and length of the bar visualize the average zone you were in. Lief customizes the zoned according to your previous data. For example, Restore Zone (the “best HRV zone”) for me at this moment is any HRV values over 19, whereas the same values for other users can be within the Alert or even Tense Zone (the lowest zone).

Biofeedback

You can initiate Lief’s biofeedback vibration in three different ways; by choosing the Train option in the app’s menu, by tapping the wearable and having a very low HRV in the Tense Zone that will automatically trigger the vibration. On the app, you will see prompts to exhale and inhale. Lief customizes the durations of the exhalation and inhalation basing it on your breathing data. The vibration is noise-free and discrete – only you will know that it’s on.

Analytics 

Lief offers basic statistical insights including average HRV over a given period. Under app’s menu “Progress”, you can display the average HRV, HRV range, Downtime Dosing, and Wear Time during a week, month or a customized period. To move to the previous/next period, you need to re-choose the desired period rather than just swipe the screen to the left/right.     

Lief app displays your actual HRV only real-time; for any previous period before now, you can see only the average HRV under a 5-minutes period as the HRV zone bar and/or average HRV during a given period (eg. a week) in Progress. Since Lief doesn’t include HR in its analytics, it only provides real-time HR data and doesn’t record your past HR for a later view/analysis.   

Conclusions

Considering getting an HRV monitor? 

You may find Lief uniquely valuable if you primarily want to:

  • monitor your real-time HRV while performing your daily activities, including light physical activities (Lief wearable tolerates a light sweating)
  • gain actionable insights about your HRV (i.e. what actions/situations hurt/improve your HRV)
  • get a clinical-level accurate HRV measurements
  • instantly improve your HRV through biofeedback-led deep breathing  

You may find Lief less attuned for your needs, if your primary goals are:

  • to collect detailed data about your HRV and/or HR
  • to gain insights of your HRV trends via statistics
  • to have an “all-in-one” wearable that provide data beyond just HR and HRV (e.g. activity level)

Use code EEVA at checkout to get a 5 % off from your purchase/subscription at Lief!

Use code KENKOHACKS to get 10 % off from your entire order at biostrap.com

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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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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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7 effective ways to benefit from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) at home

I used to see a TCM practitioner multiple times per week for herbal medicines and acupuncture and believe that following a treatment plan created by an experienced TCM is the surest way of getting the most out of TCM. Effective applications of TCM much depend on the knowledge and experiences of the practitioner to customize the treatments to the patient’s specific needs. This is true with the Western medicines, too, but even more so with TCM, which approaches patients in a holistic manner.