Our autonomic nervous system controls involuntary processes in our body – in other words – process that are automatic. Our autonomic balance matters as it impacts our fertility.
Things like breathing, our heart rate and digestion are regulated by our autonomic nervous system. Even our microbiome is impacted by our autonomic nervous system!
We can divide our autonomic nervous system into our “fight or flight” / sympathetic division and our “rest and digest” parasympathetic division. Our parasympathetic nervous system will tend to decrease our heart rate while our sympathetic nervous that dominates during exercise and stress tend to increase our heart rate.
The balance between our sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system is impacted by psychosocial environments, physical activity training load, workload, sleep adequacy and diet quality.
If we tune into our autonomic balance we can gain insight into how we are coping, adapting and recovering. It might also interest you to know that this balance of autonomic activity is even associated with IVF outcomes and pregnancy success.
Let’s dive in to learn more!
What is Heart Rate Variability?
One tool we use in our research to monitor autonomic balance is heart rate variability. While you may have heard of heart rate, heart rate variability is a bit different.
Heart rate variability (HRV) is the variance in time between your heart beats. While your heart rate at rest may be 60 beats a minute, this does not mean that your heart will beat every second, on the second at the same rate.
There is some variance in the amount of time between beats and this is what we term heart rate variability. Your heart may have 0.9 seconds between beats and then 1.3 seconds to the next beat. It is variable.
When the time between your heart beats becomes less variable, this can be a sign of:
Generally speaking, the more variable the time between heart beats (heart rate variability), the better your health and wellbeing.
We are experienced at HRV monitoring and interpretation and have published a few papers in this space. It’s another reason why we love brining the science to optimise your fertility!
How do you Measure Heart Rate Variability (HRV)?
We use different tools in the research lab to monitor heart rate variability but there is a tool you may have access to at home – a smart watch!
While smart watches may not provide the depth of analytics we can investigate, they are a practical alternative to check in on your HRV and monitor trends over days, weeks and months.
On an apple watch you will be able to view heart rate variability and this can also be available on certain Samsung smart watch models. On a Garmin the Body Battery has an input of HRV so this can also provide insight. Some Fitbit devices will also provide a heart rate variability metric.
It is important to consider when you are wearing the device as capturing data only during exercise sessions will need to be interpreted differently from if you are capturing data as you sleep. This is where we can help!
How do I Improve my Heart Rate Variability (HRV)?
Heart rate variability is impacted by all the things that impact our autonomic nervous system. This includes psychosocial environments, physical activity training load, workload, sleep adequacy and diet quality.
By optimising nutrition, exercise, sleep and mental health and wellbeing, heart rate variability improves.
Taking an individualised approach, heart rate variability insights enable your training to be tailored for better adaptations and fertility outcomes. We can monitor how your body responds to different exercise sessions and intensities and adjust recovery periods between sessions appropriately.
Heart rate variability also provides insights into diet quality and how you are coping with the emotional load of fertility treatments.
By monitoring your heart rate variability may even get insights into the onset of a cold or illness before other symptoms appear!
The Science of HRV for IVF
There are many tools that provide us with insight into how your fertility is tracking, and one of these we use is heart rate variability.
If you are interested in diving into how your autonomic nervous system is functioning and how to optimise it with science backed strategies, come and work with us!
An et al, J Assist Reprod Genet. 2013
Wu et al, PLoS One. 2018
Young et al, Behav Pharmacol. 2018