Six things I’ve learned after more than a month of wearing the Garmin Vivoactive 3

I’ve been wearing my Garmin Vivoactive 3 for about six weeks now, and I thought I’d summarise a few things I’ve learnt that have taken a bit of time to figure out, and therefore weren’t covered in the initial review. Some are things I’ve learnt about the device, others are things I’ve learnt about myself.

My stress levels are a bit lower at the weekend.

This is probably the least surprising learning on the whole list, but it’s interesting to note that the Garmin’s ‘stress’ detection is at least accurate enough to differentiate between a working day and a weekend.


They are much lower when sleeping in my own bed. In fact, a good night’s sleep has the biggest impact on average stress that day.

This is actually far more noticeable than the weekend thing. I spend a lot of time away from home at the moment, and my average stress levels are far lower when I’m sleeping in my own bed (which is extremely comfortable, the right temperature, and in a quiet room) rather than in an airbnb which may have a fairly uncomfortable bed in a noisy room that is often too cold or too hot.

The thing is (and I think this is perhaps somewhat a flaw, from a certain point of view) the Vivoactive measures ‘stress’ levels while you’re asleep which, don’t get me wrong, is both valid and interesting (as the next point will show, since there is a considerable difference between an un-stressed sleep and a stressed sleep. However, the problem is that since you spend roughly 1/3rd of the day asleep, this has a massive impact on your average stress level for the day, and therefore slightly distorts the figure that you are probably more interested in, which is how stressed were my waking hours. I’d prefer to have the sleep-based stress level kept out of stress as a whole and incorporated into the sleep views, which are in fact not nearly detailed enough about quality of sleep as opposed to quantity.

Anyway, the point is that a really good night’s sleep in a comfortable bed can compensate for a pretty awful day at work, which I suppose is a good insight. Whereas…

I sleep really badly when I’m drunk – and that’s part of the problem.

As you can see from the graph above, it’s really noticeable how ‘stressed’ my sleep is when I go to bed drunk. We all know that, no matter if we fall into a deep drunken sleep for ten hours, we’ll probably wake up feel wretched and be tired all day after a big night, and this partly demonstrates why. I may get eight, nine or even ten hours sleep after a heavy night, but the quality of sleep is awful. I’ve actually found having this presented to me so clearly a little sobering (if you’ll excuse the pun) and it’s definitely made me think twice about how often and how much I drink during the week.

The ‘move’ notification is a bit pointless

Maybe this is just me, but I don’t find the prompt to ‘move’ every hour very useful. The problem is that it takes a lot of movement to clear it – like a 3-4 minute walk, something that is hard to achieve in the office. If I could clear it by getting up and walking to the kitchen, or something, then I would. However I’ve realised I can’t, so I now tend to just ignore it, and let it clear itself a few times a day when I would be walking anyway – out to lunch, or to the train at the end of the day. The result is that it becomes completely pointless. I think one (or both) of the following two changes are needed:

– Make it easier to clear the notification. Getting up every hour and walking to the kitchen would be beneficial, so I feel I should be encouraged to do so, whereas since this isn’t good enough for my Garmin, there’s no motivation to bother.
– Track how much time I spend each day with an ‘uncleared’ move bar. This would be interesting and would motivate me more to try to clear it regularly, even if I didn’t quite manage to do so every hour as the Garmin would like.

Both my stress and heart rate are far higher when I’m hungover.

Yes, a lot of my learnings relate to alcohol. But hey, wearing a watch like this is all about the healthy lifestyle choices. And yes, it’s very noticeable not only how ‘unhealthy’ I feel with a hangover, but how objectively unwell I actually am by these metrics. Again, it’s another motivation not to drink so much, when the data is presented so coldly – after all, a resting HR some 10-15bpm higher than normal is pretty striking.

Although I didn’t screenshot the graph, I noticed similar stats for a 48hr period when I was extremely unwell with D&V. What I haven’t yet (fortunately) had, is the kind of slow-onset and slow-recovery illness where having these sort of metrics might be useful for making educated decisions about when to stop training and when to start again.

You need to plan when you charge it.

The vivoactive is at it’s best when you wear it all the time, but of course it still needs to be charged, at least once a week and potentially more frequently if you use it a lot for workouts. Fortunately it charges incredibly quickly – usually from close to 0% up to 100% in under an hour – but you still have to think about when to stick it on charge. Doing it overnight seems obvious but is a waste of all that lovely lovely sleep data, so I tend to put it on charge when I’m in the shower, when I don’t like wearing it (though it is waterproof of course – you can swim in it), and occasionally for an hour when sitting around the flat if it needs more charge. I tend to feel that the loss of that kind of data is pretty irrelevant. That said, I’m often showering after a workout, of course, and so tracking my recovery HR might be useful… but no system is perfect. It’s just something you’ll need to consider.

6 thoughts on “Six things I’ve learned after more than a month of wearing the Garmin Vivoactive 3

  1. It’s 5am, I woke up with a racing heart rate and very high stress level after a night of pre-Christmas “cheer.”
    And I stumbled here.
    I have a Vivoactive 3, and I can 2nd your experience.
    This morning is an extreme case, but I too have noticed on nights I drink, how terrible and STESSFUL my sleep is.
    Very interesting.

  2. I can totally relate to this, having been monitoring it myself for a while, and find it fascinating. It’s good to know others have picked up on it too! I also noticed my stress levels went through the roof when I caught a virus and was fighting it, I also notice how low the levels are during a healthy week with lots of exercise. People say these things are a gimmick but for me they’re a great motivator!

  3. I have been googling ‘vivoactive 3 stress levels high with sleep’ for weeks, finally found this… I have always been a terrible sleeper, lots of movement and very difficult finding comfortable position – lots of tossing and turning. I thought that was increasing my stress level. Now I see you (in your own observations, and those of others) seem to tie it to alcohol use, or too much, or hangover. I drink every night, no – I don’t get hangovers – never thought of associating stress levels with drinking. Personally, I feel it has to do with my REM cycles – I have very vivid dreams and my stats show a correlation between times of REM sleep and times of high stress levels. Do any of you (reading this) have that experience? I have nightmares sometimes and will scream – the next day my stress level is higher than normal and it occurred during the REM cycle. Thoughts anyone? Thanks!

    1. Hi Kathy,
      I do notice some correlation between vivid dreams and stress, and also vivid dreams and alcohol, so I think all these things are quite interrelated: high stress, poor sleep, drinking before bed, vivid dreams, etc.
      There may not be one single cause, but I definitely think it would be worth trying a few nights of not drinking and seeing what that does to your ‘sleep-stress’.

      One observation is that having ‘vivid dreams’ isn’t only due to REM sleep, but due to waking up in the middle of REM sleep, which causes you to remember the dream. I’m told we have vivid dreams all the time, but unless we wake up during them we rarely remember them or don’t remember them well.

      So, experiencing vivid dreams could have as much to do with poor/disturbed sleep as it does to having higher levels of REM sleep. And in my personal experience that cycle of constantly waking up from dreams, then falling asleep, dreaming and waking up again is very closely linked with going to bed having drunk alcohol.

  4. I just got a Garmin Forerunner 245 and it has the same stress measurement. I had noticed after drinking high stress through the night, and knock on heart rate effects the next day and how the “body battery” depletes and charges.

    I had one particularly hard night, and my body battery just couldn’t recover, it’s fascinating – so I am glad other people see the same thing.

    I also find the body battery quite accurate, and all the ‘training load’ and ‘training status’ really helpful to know when to really push in a session session and when to take it easy and allow the body to recover.

    Wish I had upgraded my watch a while ago, because all this information is quite amazing. I’m feeling fitter and running quicker even just after 3 weeks of paying attention to these statistics.

  5. I was given a Garmin watch in sept 2019, and noticed the stress level was quite high, climbing a bit more during October. I had also noticed chest pains on walking outside in cold weather and after a more brisk walk, prompting me to book a GP appointment for thurs 19/12/19. Meanwhile the Garmin watch was logging higher stress levels of 61 to 67 per day on 18 and 19/12/29, when I had my GP appointment. He sent me off to A+E where I expected a long queue but was rushed into tests etc and told I’d had a heart attack. It was an NSTEMI I read in my notes, which causes less damage, and the Echo test showed no damage, which they did not believe so they did it again a week later. Now on all the usual treatment, stent etc, and need an MRI before they unblock another blockage. Had I had the Garmin watch for longer I might have realised the high stress count wasn’t normal. Since treatment it is now in a daily range of 13 to 21. It would be helpful if the watch told you a bit more than it does, if levels go so high that something is very wrong. Had I had the device for longer I would possibly have known that 60 plus is not right at all!

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