Despite COVID still being a factor, WHOOP members were busy in 2021–not only trying new things and getting out there, but also prioritizing their recoveries and sleep. Emily Capodilupo, our VP of Data Science and Research, returns to the podcast for this in-depth discussion.
We examined the entire year of data across all of our members around the globe, and what we found might surprise you. As pandemic restrictions lifted and days got longer we saw our members had a “summer of fun,” with a significant increase in their recoveries and the number of times they reported having sex, as well as noticable decreases in sleep, stress, and working late.
Our community-wide data also showed us which behaviors most positively and negatively affected both recovery and sleep efficiency. In addition, we saw a direct correlation between mental well-being and sleep across the WHOOP population.
2:42 – A Year of Firsts. “The patterns that we saw make a lot of sense in the context of what was going on in the world. So there was definitely an increase in people trying new sports. About a third of all the people who are on WHOOP in 2020 and also on WHOOP in 2021 tried a new sport in 2021.”
4:12 – Activities Bouncing Back From 2020. A WHOOP study showed that when the pandemic first hit the United States, activity level dropped.
4:45 – Importance of Trying New Activities. “Cross training or doing different sports than what you normally do is really important because it challenges your different systems differently,” Emily says. “When you add in a new sport, you give these other systems a chance to be stressed out and to grow, and so you create a more balanced fitness profile.” Emily also mentions that the book Keep Sharp by Dr. Sanjay Gupta is a good read on this topic.
6:45 – New Roaring 20s. Will recalls an appearance by Yale coronavirus expert Dr. Nicholas Christakis on the podcast in Episode 101, where Dr. Christakis predicted a new “Roaring 20’s” as pandemic restrictions loosened. “That is exactly what we ended up seeing in the data,” Emily says.
9:09 – Summer of Fun. Emily breaks down WHOOP population data from the summer of 2021. “Sex was much more commonly logged in July than any other month in the year. The lowest reported levels of stress was in July. The least reports of working late came in August. We’re seeing this like ‘summer of fun’ effect pretty clearly in the data,” Emily says. “There was a noticeable uptick in recovery scores starting in June 2021, and that carried through the end of the year. So in a way that speaks more to the less stress side of things that it does to the partying side of things,” Will adds.
10:32 – Sleep/Wake Time and Recovery. Emily cites 2020 WHOOP data that looked at the recovery benefits when people have more flexibility to choose their sleep/wake time.
12:05 – Lowest Recovery Days of 2021. The lowest recovery day in 2021, unsurprisingly, came on New Year’s Day. The second-lowest recovery day came on Saturday, May 15, the day after the CDC announced that vaccinated individuals could forgo masks and social distancing.
13:59 – Getting a Recovery Boost During Menstruation. WHOOP data shows that, on average, menstruating gives individuals a 4% recovery boost. “It’s definitely powerful data and we are excited that we are able to capture this phenomenon in the menstrual cycle coaching feature. For people tracking their menstrual cycle, we’re giving you different recommendations in the strain coach based on different phases of your cycle in order to account for this. You can actually push harder when you’re menstruating because your body’s much more able to recover.”
15:51 – Diet and Recovery. Will and Emily discuss the finding that dairy free diets, paleo diets, and vegan diets all showed a 2% recovery increase on average. “Having an intentional diet is probably really good for you and just being mindful of what you’re eating more than anything else,” Emily says.
19:03 – Alcohol’s Effect on Recovery. Across the WHOOP population, alcohol use decreased recovery on average by 9%. Sickness caused a 5% dip in recovery.
21:18 – Food Close to Bedtime. Eating close to bedtime also decreases recovery on average. “When you’re trying to go to sleep, you’re trying to turn your body off and focus on a lot of repair things. And if you just ate a lot of food, you’re basically giving your body this big task and having to do those two things are a little bit incompatible with each other.” Emily adds that sleeping on your left side or propping yourself up can help with digestion during sleep.
25:05 – Mental Health and Sleep. Four of the top 10 WHOOP Journal behaviors that positively affected sleep efficiency were mental health or comfort based, including sleeping in your own bed (No. 1), feeling control (No. 2), feeling efficacy (No. 3), and feeling purpose (No. 7). “It’s actually understood that insomnia, the inability to fall asleep, is most often a mental health disorder and not actually a primary sleep disorder. If we’re unhappy or stressed out or all these things, we release cortisol, which is totally counterproductive to sleeping.”
28:23 – How This Data is Analyzed. “For the most part, what we’re looking at in this journal analysis is people who do things intermittently. So if you do something 100% of the time, you’re excluded from this analysis.”
31:42 – Aggregate Data. No personal data was collected by WHOOP for this analysis. All data was collected on an aggregate and anonymous basis.