Monthly Archives: June 2015

Morning Mental Worry and HRV

When you wake up in the morning do you wonder if your brain being engaged right away in the details of the upcoming day is actually causing you physiological stress? Is waking up worrying having an impact on your nervous system?

Morning Mental Worry and HRV

My Question

I wanted to see if how mentally calm (or not) I was in the morning was correlated with my Heart Rate Variability (HRV). How active was my brain when I had high HRV, or low? Was it ok to tick off my do list as I got up in the morning, or should I give myself a break and ease into the day?

What I Did

I measured my HRV each morning after waking using a Polar H7 Heart Rate belt connected to an app on my iPhone while simultaneously measuring my brain activity using an EEG device called Muse. The HRV would measure how close to fight or flight my nervous system was in while Muse measured my focus on breathing rather than on the worries of the day ahead.

How I Did It

I had my kit laid out the evening prior so on waking I would walk upstairs, take my toilet and sit in a chair in the Quant Cave to take the readings. I tried to keep distraction to a minimum. It was the same chair at the same time each morning. I took 16 readings over the course of as many days. The HRV app gave me an rMSSD reading, and the Muse app gave me a “% Calm” reading. I measured for five minutes and recorded the results in a Google Spreadsheet. After I had enough readings I used the Google Spreadsheet to create a graph of the results and calculate Pearson correlation.

What I Learned

My mental activity strongly correlates with HRV (r = .54). That means that higher my Muse “% Calm” score was the higher my rMSSD. It appeared that if I woke up and remained mentally relaxed my physiology seemed to be similarly relaxed.

Morning Mental Worry and HRV

Practical Application

I have a new piece of information about how I might be able to maximize my energy curve through the day. On waking allowing myself to simply go through my morning process without immediately running through my to do lists may result in a higher state of relaxation and physiological preparedness at the start of the day. If the idea of a hitting the slopes can ensure I start at a high level before I start the ride downward.

How You Can Do This Yourself

The kit you will need:

Unfortunately the Muse headset is expensive. Once you have acquired this kit and familiarized yourself, you can follow a procedure similar to the one I have described.

Short of repeating this experiment yourself you can give yourself a break in the morning and hold off on your to do list until you’ve had a chance to settle in for the day.

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Hitting the Slopes

Have you ever felt that your willpower drop over the course of the day? It is true that Heart Rate Variability (HRV) has its own circadian rhythm which I call hitting the slopes. Here is two weeks worth of my HRV averages taken at four different times of the day:

Hitting the Slopes

The slope of the line connecting the four readings is the natural shape of energy that I have during the day. To increase willpower stamina and improve performance in my negotiations I want to see if there are ways to flatten the slope of that line without losing the high readings early in the day.

To understand which variables may extend the energy I have for negotiations I found a service called Whatify that helps set up and randomize conditions for testing. Now I can A/B test elements that may affect the slope of the day.

First I have to reduce Heart Rate Variability (HRV) to a single daily number and then test variables across that number. This one number is the slope of the readings. I derive that by making the X axis the hour of the day and the Y axis the rMSSD read at that time. I then use the SLOPE function in excel to derive the number.

The first variable I am going to test is exercise. Does 30 minutes of morning cardio change the slope of the line? Stay tuned and we find out using Whatify.

HRV Reactions to Presentations @ TEDx

HRV Reactions to Presentations

My wife and I attended TEDx Mile High – “Ideas Unbridled” in Denver yesterday. I measured my heart rate variability (HRV) during each speech and on the conclusion of each rated it on how much I thought I enjoyed it. I wanted to compare my mental rating of the speeches and my physiological reaction to the same. Would the reactions match? Or was my physiology detached from the proceedings and my consumption of the speech was only a mental exercise?

I listened to twelve speeches over the course of the afternoon. The general arc was that the first four speakers I did not connect with, the fifth was a very inspiring speech, the next few were interesting, the last four were really good with the final one being absolutely great. So if I were to draw out my enjoyment curve by hand, it would look something like this:

HRV Reactions to Presentations

My wife and I discussed the speeches as we walked home. I remember telling her I liked the middle spike speaker (Eric Kornacki) and the final speaker (Teju Ravilochan). I also mentioned that I liked some of the other speakers but I referred to them by topic rather than by name. I used descriptors “the Polar Vortex guy” or “the Twitter guy” and “the Visual Mantra Woman.” That was my subjective memory at work.

I had rated each speaker immediately after their speech on a scale of 1 to 10, therefore I had data recording my immediate reaction to each speech. Here is that curve:

HRV Reactions to Presentations

During the actual experience of the speeches I had enjoyed remarks by Jesse Zhang and Chris Hansen nearly as much as Eric and Teju’s speeches, but because they sat in proximity to each other and Teju I could not recall them as well.

Finally, I pulled the data on my HRV, scaled it so I could lay it side by side with my mental assessment and you see that graph here:

HRV Reactions to Presentations

My heart rate variability tracked closely with my mental assessment of each speech. The Pearson correlation between the two measurement arrays is .84, meaning my mental assessment of enjoyment had a very strong relationship with my physiological reaction to the speeches. It appears my enjoyment of the lineup of speakers was gradually increasing although my mental assessment was more extreme at the moment.

So the physiology and the mental assessment track together. When I am delighted, entertained and viewing material meant to be engaging my HRV reaction can be a proxy for how much I enjoyed and connected with what I was seeing.

As I find note taking boring, I see a few potential techniques to develop here. Perhaps when interviewing candidates for a role I no longer need to take notes, but can simply compare HRV readings after the discussions. Or I can rent myself out as a speech meter and simply sit in rehearsal presentations and upload the HRV data afterward. When people ask “What did you think?” I can say “I don’t know, look at the data and you tell me!”

Live from the Quant Cave – HRV and Brainwaves

My wife and I bought a house and we took keys on Friday. As we did the inevitable partitioning of who got what closet, bathroom and kitchen bar stool I found the former owner’s Man Cave had been repurposed into the place we watch TV in the evenings. I didn’t mind as I am not a Man Cave guy. It sounds like a place where you are allowed to stink and let hair accumulate in the drains. Not my thing. So I appropriated a small room in the converted attic and made it my Quant Cave. It is all plugs, wires, devices and KNOWLEDGE! No TV’s, guns, booze or dart boards. And no drains, so no hair clogs. A place where you can look at HRV and brainwaves.

HRV and Brainwaves

When I was at the Denver Quantified Self Meetup I had a chance to meet Tess who very helpfully had an extra Muse EEG headset that she let me purchase. I had seen a demo of the technology on two occasions and really liked what I had seen. My experience with the other EEG outfit Neurosky had been poor. The headsets (I tried two) were always dropping signal and I got so frustrated that I threw them in the special drawer where I put my Tinke, Google Glass and other wearables that either didn’t work or were no longer relevant. That’s a pretty expensive drawer.

For the last two weeks I have been playing with the Muse headset. I like the physical product. One button push to turn on and you wear it on like a pair of glasses with a metal strip against your forehead. It is comfortable and it connects well. I have not had it fail to pair yet.

The only way you can use it with the stock iOS app is to do meditation sessions where you are giving a “% calm” score and then a pretty flat gamification model that awards you “birds.” So you collect birds and can count breaths for 3 to 45 minutes. Your brain activity is displayed as a wave but there is no hard data and does not look like I can export anything yet.

My interest is the relation between my thinking and heart rate variability (HRV). For instance, if I am thoughtful and running through my to-do list in my head does that trigger an escalation in the “get moving” response and lower my HRV? If I am conducting a negotiation and my physiology is relaxed and my brain engaged, does the device measure an increase in my brain activity increase? Or for that matter, if I am in Vapor Lock does my brain activity drop?

In a pre-trial of the ideas here I did some HRV readings while doing the Muse meditation and found no correlation (R=.036) between low brain activity (“calm”) and high HRV (also “calm”). It looked like I could have an active brain and my HRV be quite variable and vice verse. Stage set for a future study if I can work my way past bird counting and the pre-packaged basic Muse product  presentation. To the Quant Cave!

And The Winner Is..

Vapor Lock by a wide margin. A lot of interesting contributions to include:

  • cranial crash
  • Brain Choke
  • Lizard State
  • hyperlock
  • Blankout
  • Neural Network Denial-of-Service Attack

The last one is great. However, I think the technically correct term would be “Parasympathetic Nervous System Allowing Denial-of-Service Acceleration!”

Thanks all for your votes. We’ve crowdsourced a term!