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What is HRV? Your Complete Guide

Tara Youngblood Apr 04, 2023

What is HRV

We all see the term HRV in the news and through social media posts about sleep and exercise. But did you know it’s not just the latest buzzword but an actual key indicator for better sleep, stronger recovery, and overall health?

Many people—from health professionals and competitive athletes to researchers and physiologists—have started taking notice of its importance. In today’s post, we’ll first define HRV, then delve into why it’s important, how to measure it, and how to use the data to your advantage.

In today’s post, we’ll first define HRV, then delve into why it’s important, how to measure it, and how to use the data to your advantage.

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What Is HRV?

HRV stands for Heart Rate Variability, which measures the time intervals between heartbeats. It measures beat-to-beat changes in heart rate and is influenced by the autonomic nervous system (ANS). HRV is often used as an indicator of the health and functioning of the cardiovascular system and the body’s response to stress.

HRV has no magic number that is correct for all. It is different for everyone. Typically, younger people tend to have higher HRV than older people, and males often have slightly higher HRV than females.

HRV is an extremely responsive metric that has subtle variations. Those variations reflect the heart’s ability to respond to different levels of stress or situations. HRV is so powerful due to the fact that it can react (and change) to illness or stress before resting heart rate (RHR) can.

So, as you can imagine, prolonged bouts of stress, a poor diet, a failure to exercise, and even solitude can knock that balance out of whack, causing your fight-or-flight response to run rampant.

Read our blog, Unlocking Better Health: The Benefits of Monitoring Your Sleep, to learn more about how tracking your sleep can enhance your overall health and well-being.

Why Is HRV So Important?

HRV is important because it provides valuable information about the functioning of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). A person’s ANS is responsible for controlling many of the body’s internal processes, including heart rate, blood pressure, and digestion.

It’s been found to be a beneficial tool for evaluating overall health and general well-being and identifying future potential health risks.

Research has shown that people with low HRV are at increased risk for a variety of health problems including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and depression. By monitoring HRV over time, healthcare professionals can gain valuable insights into a patient’s autonomic function and make more informed decisions about their health.

Ultimately, the healthier your ANS is, the more easily you’ll be able to adapt to what life throws at you. Interestingly, starting to see a dip in your HRV can predict illness. In more severe cases, low HRV can indicate depression, anxiety, and even an increased risk of heart disease. Concurrently, having a higher HRV can indicate good cardiovascular fitness and the ability to better manage stress.

Monitoring your HRV is crucial as it provides you with valuable information to enhance your overall well-being. By keeping track of your HRV, you can identify trends and if it falls below the desired range, then take the necessary steps to improve it.

Some examples of ways to improve HRV include beginning or increasing an exercise routine, practicing meditation and ensuring better quality sleep.

In a nutshell, tracking HRV allows a person to keep tabs on their body’s state and make changes accordingly.

How Is HRV Measured?

The old-fashioned way to measure HRV is with an electrocardiogram (EKG)—you might be familiar with this if you’ve had the wires of an EKG machine attached to you during an annual physical. Of course, this is not practical if you’re trying to measure this on a nightly basis.

Many new products are available for measuring HRV while you sleep, including the Oura ring and the sleepme Sleep Tracker. The former is a wearable ring, while the latter is our non-wearable sleep tracker. Using a sleep tracker like sleepme’s allows a person to dig deeper into their sleep with a non-wearable, non-intrusive tracker and provides data like HRV, sleep trends, body temperature variations, and more.

There are options if you’re interested in determining your HRV—it just depends on which method you would like to use to gather your stats.

How to Use HRV Data to Your Advantage

We touched on one way to use HRV info to your advantage—if you know yours might be too low, you can start making those lifestyle changes. However, a lot of the buzz around HRV is about how it can aid in recovery. Most trackers will provide you with a “recovery score” to track this trend over time.

Knowing your recovery score daily can be helpful. If you’re not fully recovered based on the data, maybe you can change your training plans for that upcoming marathon or attempt smaller, easier tasks at work.

However, if the data shows you are in fact fully recovered, then you can tackle your toughest workout that day, or dig in on that challenging project at the office.

What is a Good HRV?

Like with most health-related matters, each person has unique HRV metrics, and the results might mean one thing for one person and something completely different for another. The most important concept to keep in mind when measuring and analyzing HRV is that the focus should remain on the trend.

In general, is the HRV score trending upwards or downwards? This is where one can then draw conclusions about whether attention needs to be brought to behaviors that can affect heart rate, and ultimately, overall health.

If you are reading this post, you are probably interested or curious in both HRV and sleep tracking in general. The sleepme Sleep Tracker is our non-wearable sleep tracker. And since it's non-wearable, there is never anything to charge, wear or lose. Sleep tracking is great for monitoring many other health trends besides HRV.

Sleep trackers offer a variety of metrics and measurements such as respiration, heart rate, time asleep and sleep latency. All of these examples are worth paying attention to over time, to be aware of specific health trends as they apply to the individual.

How to Improve HRV?

There are several different ways to improve HRV. Generally speaking, taking care of your mind and body is the best way to start. Regular exercise and eating a healthy diet can improve overall health and help enhance HRV.

Mental health can play an essential role in improving your heart rate variability. Taking time to manage and reduce stress can significantly improve your HRV.

Read More: Check out these 12 effective strategies to improve your heart rate variability (HRV).

Your heart rate is complex, and devices or apps that track heart rate variability can help you understand how it responds to various outside factors. However, a healthcare provider is best qualified to advise you on how to manage your heart rate.

Your heart rate is complex, and devices or apps that track heart rate variability can help you understand how it responds to various outside factors. However, a healthcare provider is best qualified to advise you on how to manage your heart rate.

Final Thought

If you are interested in learning more about your health and your health trends in general, you should begin your sleep-tracking journey. Tracking allows a person to listen to their body and make informed decisions on their daily physical activity level and even their activities over time.

By monitoring your sleep patterns, you can see so much more than HRV. This kind of valuable information allows you to take control of your sleep, improve it over the long run and work towards a lifetime of better health.


[1] Young, H.A., Cousins, A., Johnston, S. et al. Autonomic adaptations mediate the effect of hydration on brain functioning and mood: Evidence from two randomized controlled trials. Sci Rep 9, 16412 (2019). View Study

[2] Spaak, J., Tomlinson, G., McGowan, C. L., Soleas, G. J., Morris, B. L., Picton, P., Notarius, C. F., & Floras, J. S. (2010). Dose-related effects of red wine and alcohol on heart rate variability. American journal of physiology. Heart and circulatory physiology, 298(6), H2226–H2231. View Study

[3] Young, Hayley A.; Benton, David. Heart-rate variability: a biomarker to study the influence of nutrition on physiological and psychological health?. Behavioural Pharmacology 29(2 and 3):p 140-151, April 2018. | DOI: 10.1097/FBP.0000000000000383

[4] Phoemsapthawee, J., Prasertsri, P., & Leelayuwat, N. (2019). Heart rate variability responses to a combined exercise training program: correlation with adiposity and cardiorespiratory fitness changes in obese young men. Journal of exercise rehabilitation, 15(1), 114–122. View Study

[5] European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, Volume 19, Issue 4, 1 August 2012, Pages 773–780, View Study