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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