Early in 2020, WHOOP introduced the WHOOP Journal, an exciting new feature that helps you understand how your lifestyle and behavior influence your sleep performance and recovery.
WHOOP Journal utilizes a series of advanced algorithms to analyze information you provide about things like your workouts and diet, and draws correlations between those factors and changes in your sleep and recovery performance.
As a result, you can use that information to make changes to your behavior in an attempt to hack your sleep, physical performance and recovery.
What is WHOOP?
The WHOOP strap is an advanced fitness and sleep tracker that unlocks the secrets your body is trying to tell you. WHOOP’s features go far beyond those offered by other fitness and sleep trackers, such as calorie counting and heart rate measurement.
Instead, WHOOP analyzes and interprets the data it collects from its advanced sensors, which measure your biometrics 100 times per second, and gives you actionable information that you can use to improve your sleep and overall performance.
To learn more about WHOOP and why I’ve been wearing it for over a year (despite also wearing an Apple Watch), check out my in-depth WHOOP review.
The Old “WHOOP Journal”
Before the introduction of the new WHOOP Journal feature, the WHOOP app featured a simple questionnaire that would ask a handful of questions every morning.
These questions included things like whether you felt sick when you woke up, whether you had more than two alcoholic drinks within two hours of the previous bedtime, whether you read a printed book or magazine before going to bed, whether you read on a non-screen device, or if you felt stressed before you fell asleep.
Those questions weren’t incredibly specific, but based on the answers that I provided, the WHOOP algorithm could identify trends and give me feedback I could use to optimize my sleep.
For example, if WHOOP detected that I was getting less slow-wave sleep (deep sleep) after having consumed two or more alcoholic drinks within two hours of bedtime, the app would tell me.
Of course, I already knew that consuming alcohol before bedtime negatively impacted my sleep. But with WHOOP, I was able to actually see the extent of the impact, measured in how many fewer minutes I spent in slow-wave sleep.
The problem with WHOOP’s original implementation of that questionnaire was that it lacked the necessary details and specifics to be truly meaningful.
For example, what if I had only one drink before bedtime instead of two? Or what if I had two drinks, but more than two hours before going to bed?
That type of detailed response wasn’t possible until WHOOP launched the Journal.
The New WHOOP Journal
The new WHOOP Journal, which was introduced in March 2020, fixed that shortcoming.
WHOOP decided to massively increase the trackable behavioral parameters, from four to five to over 40. At the time of this writing, you can track 48 different behaviors split into the following categories:
- Mental Health
Besides the increase in the number of trackable individual behaviors, you can now also provide detailed feedback about each behavior. For example, for the question about my consumption of alcoholic drinks, I can tell WHOOP both exactly how many drinks I had and when I had the last one.
Being able to provide such granular feedback about my lifestyle and behavior is a game-changer because it enables WHOOP to provide much more precise recommendations and insights into how a specific behavior impacts my performance, recovery and sleep.
Of course, it’ll take a few weeks for WHOOP to collect sufficient sampling data before it can give me any meaningful insights.
To get an idea of exactly what behaviors WHOOP can track as of this writing, here’s an overview table:
|Air Travel||Anti-Anxiety Medication||Feel Control||Intermittent Fasting||Acupuncture||Blue-Light Blocking Glasses||Caregiving||CBD|
|Alcohol||Anti-Inflammatory NSAIDs (e.g., Ibuprofen)||Feel Efficacy||Ketogenic Diet||Breathwork||Ear Plugs||COVID-19||Magnesium|
|Caffeine||Blood Pressure Medication||Feel Purpose||Late Meal||Cryotherapy||Read in Bed||CPAP Machine||Melatonin|
|Device (e.g., Phone) in Bed||Prescription Pain Medication||Meat-Based Diet||Cupping||Shared Bed||Injured|
|Hydration||Prescription Sleep Medication||Paleo Diet||Ice Bath||Sleep at Altitude||Menstruation|
|Marijuana||Plant-Based Diet||Massage Therapy||Sleep in Own Bed||Nursing|
|Masturbation||Meditation||Sleep Mask||Parenting Infant|
|Sex||Sauna||Sound Machine (e.g., white Noise)||Pregnant|
I’m sure you can imagine how at least some of these behaviors are connected to the quality of your sleep and overall performance. But others might not be so obvious, so let’s take a closer look at each of them to better understand how you can modify them for improved sleep, recovery and performance.
Where it makes sense, I’ll group them together to avoid repetition.
Traveling by plane is not only stressful, but it can also dehydrate your body if you don’t drink enough water during the flight. That, in turn, can negatively impact your physical and mental performance (as well as your recovery).
As soon as you fly across time zones, you’ll likely also feel an impact on your circadian rhythm by deviating from the time you normally go to bed and wake up. Sleep consistency is one of the most important factors for getting sufficient high-quality sleep, and air travel can disrupt that.
By telling WHOOP when you travel by plane, you’ll be able to understand exactly what the impact is, and you’ll be better prepared to enact countermeasures — like using melatonin or blue-light-emitting glasses — that can lessen that impact. For example, using melatonin, blue light glasses or trying to stay in your home timezone.
While alcohol is a sedative that can help you fall asleep faster, it likely also reduces the time your body spends in the restorative phases of sleep, including deep and REM sleep.
That’s why drinking alcohol close to bedtime is a recipe for a bad night’s sleep and lower recovery scores. Of course, everybody reacts slightly differently to alcohol, so providing WHOOP with information about how much you drank (and when) can help you determine your individual safe limits.
I tend to be OK with one drink, but if I go beyond that I can feel the impact. Now, thanks to WHOOP Journal, I can also see it in the data.
Caffeine is a stimulant that negatively impacts both your ability to fall asleep and your ability to stay asleep, even if you feel like it doesn’t.
Until a few years ago, I used to have coffee after dinner because I was oblivious to how caffeine affected my sleep. These days, I usually don’t have any caffeine after 12 p.m.
If you think caffeine doesn’t impact your sleep, wear WHOOP and see if your sleep quality and efficiency change after consuming it. I bet they will!
Device in Bed (e.g., Your Smartphone)
The screens of electronic devices emit blue light that might disrupt the release of melatonin and negatively impact sleep in numerous other ways — not all of which are completely understood yet.
I’ve noticed that using devices in bed is stressful at worst and a waste of time at best, because I usually don’t do anything productive with them while in bed. These days, I often leave my phone in my (home) office so I’m not even tempted to look at it before falling asleep (or after waking up).
Every cell in the human body requires water to function optimally. If you don’t drink water for a while, you’ll ultimately die. In other words, water and proper hydration are important.
I’m not a proponent of force-feeding water, because “more” isn’t always better. If you drink too much water you risk flushing out essential electrolytes, and that’s not good either.
A good way to tell if you’re properly hydrated is to look at your urine. If it’s pale or light yellow, you’re in good shape. If it looks like water, you might have overdone it. If it’s dark yellow, go get some water. If it’s brown, see your doctor — especially if it’s brown after a tough (CrossFit) workout, as you might have rhabdomyolysis (aka rabdo).
But when you’re dehydrated, your performance, sleep and recovery suffer. So if you wake up feeling thirsty, tell WHOOP and keep an eye on how it affects your body.
Many people claim that using marijuana or THC makes them feel better, more relaxed, and improves their sleep. I have little experience with it, but based on what I’ve read, marijuana can definitely make you more relaxed and help you fall asleep faster.
However, I’ve also heard that it can negatively impact your slow-wave sleep. If you use marijuana and WHOOP, you can find out exactly how it impacts your sleep and recovery scores.
If you’d like to share your experience with marijuana and WHOOP, leave me a comment below or send me a direct message!
Masturbation and Sex
I used to publish my monthly and annual WHOOP performance reports, but I’m not sure if I’ll do so in the future considering that they might contain information about how frequently I masturbate or have sex.
But the reason why tracking that behavior is important is because both activities can help you improve your sleep and recovery. As I mentioned in a previous article about the benefits and effects of sex, the body releases certain sleep-inducing hormones when you have an orgasm.
So if you’re having trouble falling asleep, try having sex or masturbating. Combined with a hot shower, it works wonders for many.
Stress changes the chemistry in your body — for example, through the release of cortisol (the stress hormone). In turn, that can negatively impact your sleep, increase your strain, and thus increase your recovery needs.
By telling WHOOP how much stress you experienced (low, moderate or high), you can see how stress and the countermeasures you put in place (like meditation and breathing) affect your sleep and recovery.
Smoking and the use of tobacco is obviously bad for you on so many levels, including the fact that it causes inflammation and increases the risk of developing certain cancers.
But nicotine is also a potent stimulant, and much like caffeine, it can prevent you from falling and staying asleep.
So if you need some extra motivation and hard data to quit smoking, WHOOP might be a great tool for you!
There are numerous types of pharmaceuticals that can negatively impact your sleep, and thus your performance and recovery the next day.
That’s particularly true for medications that alter your brain chemistry or reduce pain.
The good news is that you can use the WHOOP Journal to better understand the impact of anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory, blood pressure, prescription pain and prescription sleep medication.
For example, studies have shown that certain non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) “have acute negative effects on sleep in humans and animals.”
On the other hand, brain-chemistry-altering medication, such as prescription sleeping pills, can knock you out but prevent your body from entering deeper stages of sleep.
Specifically, you can provide feedback for the following types of medication:
- Anti-anxiety medication
- Anti-inflammatory NSAIDs (e.g., ibuprofen)
- Blood pressure medication
- Prescription pain medication
- Prescription sleep medication
If you’re taking any of those medications, you can monitor their impact on your sleep through the WHOOP app.
May is mental health awareness month and WHOOP just introduced three new tracking parameters, representing physiological needs, to keep tabs on your mental health, including:
- Feel control: Do you feel in control of your life?
- Feel efficacy: Do you feel you had the resources/skills to complete your daily goals?
- Feel purpose: Do you feel a sense of purpose?
By keeping track of these mental health parameters, WHOOP can help you understand how your behaviors are impacting them.
Food is fuel for the body. As a result, your diet directly impacts your health, physical performance and sleep.
Based on everything I know about nutrition and human metabolism, a high-fat low-carb diet (such as the ketogenic diet) paired with high-quality sources of food is a good starting point for optimal performance.
Of course, everybody is different. While I thrive on a high-fat and predominantly meat-based diet, you might do better by eating a few more carbs than I do.
To figure out what works best for you and what doesn’t, you can tell WHOOP what type of diet you’re following, including a keto, paleo, meat-based or plant-based diet.
You can also tell WHOOP if you had a meal close to bedtime, which might negatively impact your sleep. I usually finish eating between 7:30 and 8:00 p.m., before I start my bedtime routine.
So I’m looking forward to learning how my sleep changes on days where I have an early dinner (or no dinner at all).
Additionally, you can let WHOOP know if you practice intermittent fasting. I fast almost every day, and I find it particularly interesting when my recovery scores and HRV skyrocket after not having eaten for 40+ hours.
There are a lot of things you can do, and tools you can use, in an attempt to improve your recovery and sleep.
But to find out what really works for you — remember, everybody is different — you have to have data to back up your hunch.
For example, I always wondered if massages really help or if they just feel good. Either way is fine, but knowing what truly works and what doesn’t can help me better prepare for a competition (or save me money).
Thanks to the WHOOP Journal, you can now keep tabs of the following recovery techniques:
- Ice Bath
- Massage Therapy
- Sensory Deprivation
- Steam Room
The only thing I’d add is percussion therapy. I just got an ExoGun and would love to have an objective way to determine its effectiveness beyond how I feel.
Almost every behavior I listed above has the potential to positively or negatively impact your sleep.
However, WHOOP offers a dedicated sleep category that includes behaviors that are directly related to sleep and sleep routine. To learn more about the importance of sleep, check out this article I published a while back.
Blue-Light Blocking Glasses
There is scientific evidence that the blue light emitted by LED bulbs and electronic devices can negatively impact your sleep by disrupting the release of sleep-inducing hormones, such as melatonin.
One thing you can do to mitigate the effects of blue light is to wear blue-light blocking glasses. To understand how effective that is, use the WHOOP Journal.
Ear plugs can mask ambient noise that could, otherwise, disrupt your sleep or wake you up. My wife wears ear plugs so she doesn’t hear me when I get up in the morning before her. I think she puts up with me being a potential source of disturbance because I bring her coffee in bed.
Read in Bed
Based on the data from my WHOOP strap, I spend 42 minutes more in deep sleep when I read on a non-screen device than when I don’t. That’s freaking amazing, and an excellent reason to pick up a book more often instead of watching TV on the couch before bedtime.
Sharing a bed with my wife also increased my deep sleep by five minutes and improved my recovery score by 16%. I guess that’s one of the benefits of being married.
Sleep at Altitude
Many professional athletes train and sleep at altitude because there’s less oxygen in the air and it forces the body to adapt. As part of that adaptation, the body produces more red blood cells to transport more oxygen in the bloodstream.
I’ve never done that, but it’s a fascinating technique to improve one’s cardiovascular performance when they’re back closer to sea level.
However, my wife and I have planned a trip to Machu Picchu and Cusco (the entry city where we’ll start our trek). The latter is located at an elevation of 11,152 feet (3,399 meters) above sea level. I’ll make sure to log that into my WHOOP Journal to see what my sleep performance and recovery will look like!
Sleep in Own Bed
If you travel a lot for work or pleasure, you might be spending a lot of nights in beds that aren’t your own. Whether or not that impacts your sleep, HRV and recovery is something WHOOP can help you figure out.
Since this is a fairly new feature and I’m not traveling at the moment (thanks to the coronavirus), I have yet to find out if sleeping in a foreign bed impacts my sleep at all.
The presence of light is an indication to your brain that it’s not time to sleep. That’s why it’s so important to make your bedroom as dark as possible.
One easy way of doing that is to wear a sleep mask. I find most sleep masks uncomfortable and typically only wear them when I travel by airplane.
If you’re considering wearing a sleep mask, you can use the WHOOP Journal to figure out how effective it is.
Sound Machine (e.g., White Noise)
Ever since we had our first baby, we heavily relied on white noise to support sleep. But white noise isn’t only an effective method for improving sleep in newborns; it works for adults as well.
These days, we only use white noise when we’re traveling and sleeping in the same room as the kids.
You can also share your current health status with WHOOP, including whether or not you’re infected with the new coronavirus (COVID-19).
Much like nursing an infant, giving care to someone else who might require attention at night impacts your sleep and recovery.
If you think you’re infected with the coronavirus, or if you got a positive test result, you can talk directly to WHOOP and discuss your data with them.
I’m glad I’m not infected yet, but I’d definitely be interested in finding out what early signs my WHOOP data showed.
Of course, WHOOP won’t release anybody’s name or information without their explicit consent.
People who suffer from sleep apnea and other lung issues often wear CPAP machines to help them breathe at night. When our little one was born prematurely at 30 weeks and six days, he had one too in the NICU.
If you’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea or similar issues, you will likely see a major difference in sleep performance and recovery when using a CPAP machine.
If you’re injured, your body is in repair mode. And that usually shows via a drop in heart rate variability (HRV) and a lower recovery score. Telling WHOOP that you’re injured can help it make sense of any changes in your data, and can also help it provide insights into the effectiveness of your recovery strategy.
I obviously don’t have any hands-on experience with menstruation, but I think it’s crucial to keep track of it for various reasons.
There are so many chemical processes happening in the female body during that time, including hormonal changes, that it’s not hard to imagine that they’d impact everything — including physical performance and sleep.
As with most other parameters in the “status” category, telling WHOOP what’s happening can help it to make more sense of sudden drops in recovery that would otherwise be unexplainable to the platform.
Nursing and Pregnancy
Similar to the monthly cycle, both nursing and pregnancy cause significant changes in the female body that impact hormone levels, nutritional requirements, and countless other areas of the body.
Plus, don’t forget the stress of breastfeeding if the baby isn’t latching on properly, refuses the breast, or if you’re not producing enough milk.
How that all impacts your sleep, performance and recovery is fascinating to discover, and the WHOOP Journal gives you an opportunity to do so.
Parenting an infant usually means sleeping poorly (or not sleeping at all). I remember the sleepless nights and zombie-like appearance my wife and I experienced with both of our kids.
I wish I had had WHOOP a few years ago to keep tabs on my strain, sleep and recovery.
The last time I got a cold, my HRV and recovery scores started dropping before I noticed I was getting sick. Coincidentally, my recovery score and HRV returned to near normal levels as I was feeling better.
That’s fascinating, and especially so right now with COVID-19. I’m watching my HRV like a hawk.
This status attribute is funny — not in and of itself, but the fact that being single might impact your performance is hilarious and surprising.
Certain supplements are known to improve sleep and help you fall asleep faster. WHOOP gives you the opportunity to keep tabs on three of those supplements.
CBD is the non-psychoactive cousin of THC and research indicates that it can help improve sleep quality, among other things.
I used to experiment with CBD before WHOOP had an option to judge its impact. Now that I have access to the new Journal, I’ll try CBD again to see how it affects my sleep.
I’m on a paleolithic ketogenic diet and I work out a lot (mostly CrossFit). Both factors combined lead to an increased demand on certain electrolytes, such as magnesium, calcium sodium and potassium.
That’s why I take a magnesium supplement on a daily basis, or use a special lotion that contains this important mineral*.
Magnesium has also been shown to improve sleep quality, which is yet another reason why I use it regularly.
Melatonin is a sleep-inducing hormone. In other words, it can help you fall asleep quicker. I use melatonin when I travel internationally or when I’m forced to temporarily change my bed or wake times.
By keeping tabs on my melatonin consumption, I can better understand how it impacts the time it takes me to fall asleep and whether or not it changes the duration I spend in the restorative stages of sleep.
Update: While I’m a fan of using low dosages of melatonin, it can be habit-forming and consistent use can prevent your body from producing its own melatonin. So I’ve backed off on using it, and am currently experimenting with a melatonin-free supplement from Equip* — which has been working really well to help me get sleepy.
How I Use the WHOOP Journal
I only answer about half of the available behavior questions each morning, based on my specific lifestyle. The good news is that you can pre-select the ones you want the WHOOP app to ask you. That way, you don’t have to click through all 40+ questions.
The ones that I’m most interested in are:
- Time of last meal
- Magnesium/melatonin supplementation
- Shared bed
- Read on screen/non-screen devices
The reason why I’m so focused on those is because I can easily and directly influence those parameters by adjusting my lifestyle.
My goal is to find out what the lowest hanging fruits are in terms of improving sleep and recovery without severely disrupting my lifestyle.
For example, I’d be pretty bummed if I found out that even one glass of wine severely impacts my sleep. That’s because I love having a glass of organic red wine at night to wind down.
However, I have no issues abstaining from having a second glass, because I know what it does to my sleep.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be paying close attention to the impact of melatonin, magnesium and CBD, as well as reading a book instead of watching TV.
Frequently Asked Questions
It’s important to understand that the suggestions and recommendations you get from the WHOOP app, based on the Journal feedback you provide, reflect correlations.
Much like with nutritional studies, there’s a difference between correlation and causation. For example, when I read a book before going to sleep and my deep sleep increases by 40 minutes, it might not be caused by the book. Instead, it could well be that I’m more relaxed and exposed to less blue-light. Or maybe there are other factors involved that I’m not aware of.
So while the WHOOP wearable can’t replace placebo-controlled, double-blind studies, it’s a great tool for self-experimentation that can help you make better lifestyle choices.
Yes they do! In fact, while writing this article I received an update notification indicating that WHOOP added Hydration, CPAP Machine and Sleep at Altitude to the Journal.
Additionally, the company made the Intermittent Fasting behavior more useful by asking for a feeding window instead of only the time of the last meal.
When you’re not fasting, the body gets most of its energy and nutrients from the food you eat (or drink).
Depending on the diet you’re on, most of that energy either comes from carbohydrates (glucose) or fat (ketones and fatty acids).
What’s important to understand is that if you’re not a professional athlete, your body can thrive on fat as its primary source of fuel. That’s the idea behind the ketogenic diet.
However, athletes who compete in certain types of exercise, such as CrossFit, might be better off running on glucose. You can learn more about the best diet to improve physical performance in this article.
The main difference between the WHOOP Journal and tags in the Oura app is that the former correlates your lifestyle choices with your sleep performance, HRV and recovery score.
Oura doesn’t do any automatic correlation (yet). Instead, it’s more like a journal that leaves it up to you to draw your own conclusions.
You can learn more about the differences between the Oura Ring and the WHOOP strap here.
Where Can You Learn More?
To learn more about WHOOP, check out my in-depth review or visit whoop.com*. I also recommend subscribing to the WHOOP podcast, hosted by Will Ahmed, and to listen to the episodes featuring Kristen Holmes and Emily Capodilupo.
Both Kristen and Emily talk a lot about the science behind WHOOP and how it can help improve human performance.
You can also take a look at my past WHOOP performance assessments to find out how my behaviors impacted my performance:
WHOOP is by far my favorite fitness and sleep tracker, and features like the brand-new WHOOP Journal keep making this wearable even more valuable.
Some WHOOP members aren’t happy with the fact that the company charges a monthly membership fee, but by doing so, WHOOP can continue to release awesome new features like the WHOOP Journal. Case in point, my contact at WHOOP told me that they will continue releasing a new feature every month, and I can’t wait for what they have in the pipeline.
As far as the Journal is concerned, I’m more than thrilled about the ability to provide detailed feedback about my lifestyle choices every morning, and to find out how my behavior impacts my performance, recovery and sleep.
PS: If you aren’t a WHOOP member yet but would like to become one, make sure to use this link* to get $30 off your membership!