Sleep tracking tools have become a popular addition to many fitness bands over the last year or two. Why? A good night's rest can impact the effectiveness of your diet and exercise regimen, as well as mental and physical wellbeing. This is where the Oura Ring fits in. Though it claims to be an all-round activity tracker, it's more of a fitness-focused sleep tracker with some activity functions thrown in. Sleep tracking is great with useful data that can help you achieve more effective rest each night. But while the exercise aspects are fine for people who want to be more active, hardcore fitness fanatics will find the feedback lacking.
The Oura Ring, as the name implies, puts the functions of a fitness band in a ring that you can wear on any finger. It tracks your heart rate, temperature and movement to assess your level of activity and sleep patterns. Though some raw data is available, most of it is interpreted and presented as daily scores.
It connects to an app via Bluetooth, where it regularly updates data every 20 minutes or so. This serves as the interface for reviewing scores, logging data and reviewing fitness and sleep advice supplied by Oura. The ring itself doesn't have a screen.
The app can also sync to Google and Apple Health if you prefer to use them instead. The ring is light, a little bigger than a typical piece of jewellery, water resistant up to 100m and its battery lasts up to seven days. However, it can become uncomfortable and a little painful if your exercise involves gripping, such as chin-ups, or pressure on the hand, like push-ups.
Data is broken down into three key areas:
It can also measure resting heart rate (HRH) and provide heart rate variability (HRV) data. However, Oura won't record your active heart rate.
The daily scores are a kind of snapshot to track your progress. If you go to bed at a reasonable hour and get a good night's sleep, your "sleep" score will be in the 90s for example. If you sit around all day and barely build up steps, your "activity" score may be in the 60s. These serve as a baseline to figure out where you can improve aspects of your sleep and health, or stay the course if you're happy with the results.
Scores provide a quick reference point each morning, with some additional data in each category.
This section handles fitness functions which basically boil down to step tracking and calorie burning. It's pretty comparable to mid-range fitness trackers from other brands in terms of data, but it doesn't go on your wrist.
It uses an accelerometer to track steps and shows you how many calories you've burnt throughout the day. You can manually add other workout types that don't involve walking or running, such as rowing or strength training. Here, Oura generates approximate step and calorie burn counts, as well as a daily movement chart.
Oura also encourages rest as part of your routine. The "moments" feature has guided and unguided breathing and meditation exercises which contribute to the activity score.
Finally, you can "tag" other things you do during day, such as eating food, drinking alcohol or taking a nap. This is so you can compare data against what you do and consume to figure out how your day-to-day life is impacting your sleep and performance. However, tags don't contribute to your activity score.
Every night the Oura Ring tracks hours slept, the time spent in light, deep and REM sleep, movement (e.g. restless sleep), moments you woke up and your resting heart rate throughout the night. Body temperature, time slept and the hours you go to bed and get up also factor in. This information gives you a sleep score when you get up in the morning.
Together, the activity and sleep scores deliver a readiness score each morning. It's basically a recovery meter that assesses the quality of your sleep and intensity of your exercise from the day or days before to determine whether you can increase the intensity, take a day off to rest or stay the course.
There are a few motivational tools included, too. Each day the app sets a calorie burn goal that's based on your readiness score, and it provides little notes of encouragement in the morning to help you maintain your scores or improve them. It also reminds you to get up and move about when you've been idle for too long.
The Oura Ring claims to be able to identify impending illness by monitoring changes in your temperature and heart rate. Although it doesn't specify conditions, it suggests that a few days of elevated temperature could indicate a cold, for example.
So of course, there's a bit of online chatter about whether it can be used to predict COVID-19, what with it being 2020 and all. Although it may be able to identify changes in your body that are indicative of symptoms possibly related to COVID-19 infection, it can't identify it. This is not a COVID prediction device and you can't buy one online, so don't get caught out by any misinformed hype.
Though Oura can gather a lot of the same data as fitness bands worn on your wrist, it can't predict a COVID-19 infection.
This is where the Oura Ring starts to differentiate itself. Though some raw data is available, the idea is to base your fitness and sleep regimens around the three daily scores. It takes a couple of weeks, minimum, for these scores to become really useful, as the ring takes time to understand your body, sleep patterns and lifestyle.
Data is quickly conveyed and easy to digest. Within a minute of waking up, you have an idea of how well you slept and how strenuous your activity should be for the rest of the day (based on your readiness score). With that, you can follow Oura's advice and start to figure out how you can improve your scores if they're not too good. It almost feels like light gamification as you constantly chase the high score, which can be a motivator.
Of course, this all requires some knowledge of fitness to really make the most of it. Each data point has information that explains why and how it's collected and why it's important for health, fitness and sleep. It also notes the kinds of things you should be aiming for (e.g. ideal sleep hours) and how to improve or stay the course. Then, the onus is on you to work out what needs to change. Maybe you drink too much coffee or work out too late, which is affecting your resting heart rate overnight.
Trends become useful after a couple of weeks, as the Oura Ring develops an understanding of your sleep patterns, fitness routines and lifestyle.
There are a handful of charts and graphs that help you identify specific health, fitness and sleep trends. The app can specifically show you what kind of sleep (e.g. deep, light, REM) you had and when throughout the night, as well as how your resting heart rate varied across the evening and over time.
It also builds up score trends over a number of weeks again, so you can figure out which days you're at your best and so on. These give a really useful, broad overview of your progress and provide good retroactive examples of when certain routines, workouts, sleep patterns and so on may not have been as effective as you'd hoped.
We're adding the Oura Ring to our upcoming fitness band test that's due to take place later in the year. Until then, we can't make any definitive claims about data accuracy. But at face value, the Oura Ring's sleep tracking functions really seemed to be its best feature.
It was able to work out exactly when we went to sleep and woke up, and it correctly identified moments where we unexpectedly woke up during the night on its sleep chart. We didn't fall ill while testing (which is fortunate given the whole COVID-19 thing), so again we can't comment on whether illness detection actually works.
The accelerometer seemed to match the steps we counted in our heads as we walked along, but we noticed it was less effective when our hands were less mobile (e.g. holding a phone). It also counted typing as steps from time to time, but not too often.
Heart rate monitor
The heart rate and temperature gauges felt fine in that as we slept, the measured resting heart rate seemed to coincide with periods of deep sleep and so on. Similarly, our resting heart rates fell during allocated rest moments.
It also appeared to accurately capture moments when our hearts had to work a little harder. We had a few socially distanced drinks with friends on a Friday night and went to bed not long after they left, which meant our bodies had to deal with the alcohol while we slept. Our resting heart rates and restlessness were much higher for the first few hours as a result, and this was captured by the ring.
Oura's unique scoring system is either a great, easy to understand motivator or a pile of abstract numbers, depending on how you approach sleep and fitness. While there is plenty of information as to how and what is measured in the activity, sleep and readiness scores, the final results are a bit of a mystery.
Sure, there's some granular data but not enough for people that are really into fitness, and you kind of need to trust that the hidden math behind Oura's scoring system is effective. Plus, while Oura provides some guidance, you need to put the pieces together to improve your score.
This was great in one instance during our assessment. Fluctuations in sleep patterns and the effectiveness of our sleep was clearly laid out and easy to understand. In fact, it was so clear and detailed, we were able to identify problems based on charts alone, which allowed us to easily modify some behavior to improve rest periods.
The sleep data is detailed and easy to understand.
However, another time we woke up feeling well rested, physically fine and ready to do some moderately intense exercise. But Oura discouraged that as we'd worked out three days in a row beforehand. We exercised anyway and everything was fine.
So, while it does learn about your body over time, scoring still takes a "one size fits all" approach to some degree, which feels a bit abstract. There isn't really much in the way of general health data either.
On the whole, it feels like Oura went in with the idea of making a solid sleep tracking device and decided to add fitness features later on. The sleep tracking is good, no arguments there, but the rest feels a bit incomplete.
- Set custom goals; the daily calorie burn count is based on your overnight scores.
- Log food consumption aside from noting what you ate and drank at certain times. There's no option for fat, sugar etc, which makes the calorie counter less effective.
- Track active heart rate.
- Track specific workouts that don't utilise the accelerometer, like rowing. The step and calorie estimates aren't really explained either, and they don't get particularly granular.
Some of the Oura's fitness functions are lacking compared to similar products.
That's not to say that Oura should have a detailed set of options for every piece of exercise equipment ever made. The issue is that it tries to apply one calculation to many different types of exercise. That can lead to less effective workouts and potentially less useful data depending on what fitness outcomes you're hoping to achieve.
Oura provides solid sleep tracking tools and feedback regarding your daily recovery (serious medical issues notwithstanding). The combination of easy to understand scores and detailed graphs that track sleep patterns and heart rates can help you adjust your lifestyle in order to improve your sleep. Plus, it's so small and light that you're unlikely to notice it at night.
Fitness tracking is a different story. The scoring system is a quick, simple motivator that presents understandable goals each day with a little more detail if you're interested. This is great for those that want to engage in a more active lifestyle, short of full-blown, targeted fitness routines. If you take exercise seriously however, you'll probably find the feedback and data somewhat limited and abstract.