I Tried a Sleep-Tracking App for Two Weeks, and It Changed the Way I Approach My Workouts

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Because I teach fitness classes starting at 5:30 am every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I get to wake up at the disrespectful hour of 4 am three times a week. Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s for a great cause. But after six years, it still hasn’t become any easier. If you would have told my younger self that 6 am would feel like sleeping in one day, she would have laughed at you.

When clients talk to me about teaching the early classes they say, “Oh you’re an early bird!” Nope. I’m a night owl with early bird hours, using coffee (and the adrenaline from my alarm shocking me awake each morning) to fly. Most nights I don’t actually go to sleep until 10:30 or 11:00 pm. Many nights it’s much later than that.

I am well aware of the benefits of healthy sleep habits, yet I just can’t seem to get it right. I’ve tried multiple times to go to bed earlier so that I could get my full eight hours, but that has me going to sleep at 8 pm, which means I have to be in bed by 7:30. Yeah, it’s not happening. (Do you know everything that I can accomplish after that time?)

Due to this work/sleep schedule, I often find myself tired throughout the day and either struggling with energy when I work out or skipping workouts altogether. I know it’s not what a fitness coach should say, but it’s true. I should always want to work out, right?

Well, no. There was once a time (many moons ago) when I would work out seven days a week. I was doing Orangetheory, Pilates, and had a ClassPass membership that allowed me to take classes almost anywhere my heart desired. I felt immense pressure to be working out all the time because of my job. It wasn’t until my mentor (who is also the world’s best physical therapist) told me that I needed to be resting two days a week if I wanted to see quicker results, that I stopped. I followed her advice, and wouldn’t you know, it worked like a charm. I got into the best shape of my life that year. Rest and recovery is a major key. (Cue DJ Khaled.)

Yet, I recently found myself in a workout slump with more days off than on. After some soul searching, I came to terms with the fact that it was because of my lack of sleep, and I decided to do something about it.

I downloaded Gentler Streak, which is an app that uses your sleep data from your wearable device to tell you when your body is ready for higher effort and intensity during workouts, and when you may want to take it easy. Not only does Gentler Streak tell you the level of intensity your body is ready for, but it also suggests workouts you can do that keep you within that threshold. (Note that you do need to wear your wearable to bed for a few nights first before the app can accurately prescribe your activity level.)

My plan was to work out four days a week for two weeks and use the Gentler Streak app to tell me when I was ready for a workout—and how intense that workout should be—and when I should rest, to see if I could tell a difference in how I felt and how well my workouts went.

Right away, just knowing that I was tracking my sleep encouraged me to call it a night a bit earlier. Over the course of my two-week test, I averaged a bedtime of 10 pm, which is good for me, and I also snuck in a few naps here and there when I felt like I needed one. (I am a huge advocate for naps. The fact that we have to stop taking them as we get older, seems unfair—I need them more now than I ever did as a child.)

The morning after night one the Gentler Streak app told me that I got a decent enough sleep to take on a challenging workout, so I took an Orangetheory class, which is high intensity. At the end of the workout, the app showed me that I worked to almost the top of my threshold, but stayed within the parameters for what my body was able to handle.

A few days later there was a particularly rough night where I did not get to bed until midnight. When I tell you that 4 am wakeup call was painful, oh man! I had hoped to do a workout for myself that following day—it was my last day to get in my fourth workout of the week—but the app advised me to take a rest day. Although I was tempted to push through, I listened to the app. After teaching class, I crashed on the couch by midday and didn’t leave it until bedtime.

The next day, I felt rejuvenated and the app said I was ready to get moving again. However, it also said my body still wasn’t ready for something like a HIIT workout, so it suggested I do a short outdoor run. Without Gentler Streak, I probably would have gone right back to maximum intensity instead of easing into it.

Full transparency: There was one day that I didn’t follow the app’s instructions. I did a HIIT training when it told me to take it easy, and I got a bold notification that I was overreaching. And I have to admit, it did feel harder to do the workout, so it would seem Gentler Streak was correct. I appreciated it holding me accountable to my body and rest.

Overall, using an app to track my recovery based on my sleeping habits, and letting it dictate my workouts, has been beneficial. I will keep up with it, as I’ve found it to be pretty accurate, and it’s helped me understand the capabilities of my body and pay attention to where my energy levels actually are, not just where I want them to be. It may not help me regularly go to bed earlier long-term, but I at least know how to hack my workouts when the night owl gets the best of me.

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