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February 23, 2020

Impact of WHOOP on Sleep Behavior in Navy Special Operations

Military Operators Improve Sleep with WHOOP

Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD for short) is a segment of Naval Special Operations. Their technicians render safe all types of explosives including biological, chemical and even improvised nuclear devices (think The Hurt Locker). They can be asked to perform these tasks in the air, on the ground and underwater. Considering this, they have one of the most unique operational environments on the planet. The extraordinary stressors that go with the job are incomparable to anything most of us have ever known.

The Study

WHOOP teamed up with EOD to run a 6-month study on operators. The goal was to better understand how exposure to data related to cardiovascular load (strain), mental and physical capacity (recovery), and sleep influences behaviors and performance outcomes.

Design

There were 40 participants outfitted with WHOOP Straps and then split randomly between two cohorts:

  • The first consisted of 20 operators who could see their WHOOP data with full visibility into all their metrics. They also had access to WHOOP performance scientists, materials and educational offerings.
  • The second group of 20 operators (BLIND) had no access to their data or other educational assets from WHOOP.

Outcome: Data Drives Behavioral Change

The operators with visibility to their WHOOP data exhibited better sleep hygiene than those who did not. This translated to statistically significant physiological advantages, such as lower resting heart rates and more REM sleep (relative to the control group). They also showed a positive trend in less reported stress, fewer injuries, and reduced screen time before bed.

Additional Findings

1. Increased Commitment to Sleep. Over the course of the observational period, participants with access to their data went to bed earlier, woke up later, and averaged a hugely significant 45 more minutes in bed per night.

2. Greater Sleep Consistency. Not only did those with data access get more sleep, they also slept more regularly. This was most apparent in the analysis of bedtimes. Research out of Harvard University illustrated the value of sleep-time consistency.

3. Improved Sleep Quality. The operators with data visibility had higher quality sleep than those in the control group. In particular, this was noticeable in the difference between nightly average duration of REM sleep, the sleep stage responsible for the stabilization of spatial and procedural memory.

4. Better Cardiovascular Indices. As a result of behavior changes to improve sleep, the participants who could see their WHOOP data also had lower resting heart rates and higher heart rate variability.

5. Higher Physical Readiness Test (PRT) Scores. Operators with access to their data were better prepared for Physical Readiness Testing, showing 17% greater improvement compared to others. Additionally, they dedicated 40+ more minutes to sleep in the nights leading up to the PRT.

Overall, this study demonstrated that access to WHOOP data and the in-app personalized insights related to recovery, strain and sleep can reduce injuries, increase sleep quantity and quality, and improve performance outcomes. It also reinforces the idea that using WHOOP encourages wearers to adopt positive behaviors.

 

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Kristen Holmes

Kristen is the VP Performance Science at WHOOP. Before joining WHOOP in 2016, she was the Head Field Hockey Coach at Princeton University. One of the most successful coaches in Ivy League history, Kristen won 12 league titles in 13 seasons, and one National Championship. She was also a 3x All American and a 2x Big 10 Athlete of the year at the University of Iowa, competing in both Field Hockey and Basketball Previously a 7-year member of the U.S. National Field Hockey Team, Kristen blends her background in athletics, coaching, performance technology, psychology and sports performance to drive research and partnership initiatives to strengthen WHOOP as a leader in Human Performance.

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