The year 2020 has been, uh, stressful. It’s no shocker that medications for depression, anxiety and insomnia have all seen record-setting, double-digit surges since February. People desperately want to feel and sleep better, and pharmacological remedies promise a quick fix. The efficacy of pills can be hit or miss, however, and scores more folks still would prefer to ditch the script altogether. But what replaces it? Feelmore Labs, a startup wellness outfit anchored in neuroscience, envisions a solution derived from replicating a parent’s calming touch.
Meet Cove, the first product from Feelmore Labs. It’s a wearable device that applies gentle, silent vibrations just behind your ears, on the mastoid and temporal bones. The specific frequency of the vibration is designed to stimulate the sensitive nerve endings of your skin into activating a deep part of your brain (the posterior insular cortex) that is directly involved in the modulation of stress.
For that mechanically-fabricated sensation to be effective, the touch has got to be affective: low speed, relaxing and light. Using these sensations together to trigger a positive response in the brain is an ability that exists exclusively in the neuronal network of large mammals. Our insular cortex aids emotional regulation and, with consistent affective touch inputs, can be trained to be more resilient to stress. It’s why an infant feels comforted by the caress of a parent, or why a kitten loves getting licked and groomed by its folks.
The goal is a uniform one: reduce anxiety and stress. That outcome leads to a host of other benefits, including more blissful sleep. Note that you don’t have to wear Cove all the time to get results; you just need to pop it on for 20 minutes a day. Just let it vibrate away while you watch TV, or read, or go about your life. There’s an app (of course) aimed at habit formation, as regular use is needed to continually build resilience to stress — and it collects some mild biometrics such as the time of day you’re using it and what your heart rate is. The goal of the opt-in, anonymous data gathering is to better refine and hone the frequency of the vibration for you personally as time goes on.
The inspiration for Cove emerged from an innovation out of Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.
“The institute’s goal is to merge science and engineering to create new medical products,” says Francois Kress, CEO of Feelmore Labs. “These guys invented insoles that you put in the shoes of elderly people who lose their balance. There are nerve endings in the bottom of our feet and if they don’t react properly by sending the right signals to the brain, we lose balance. These soles vibrate lightly and send signals to the brain to help the wearer stay upright. We thought if nerve endings in the feet can be used, other placements and other parts of the body could be equally effective.”
Kress, who has two Masters of Science degrees from his native France, has always been into science and math, though his resume may not directly reflect his passion. While he did serve on a biopharmaceutical board for half a decade, Kress spent 25 years entrenched in the luxury world, running brands like Louis Vuitton, Moet-Hennessy, Fendi, Bulgari, Prada and Caroline Herrera. Ask him how helming multinational, high-end fashion companies has helped prepare him to launch a wellness product and his answer is swift.
“Well being is the new luxury,” he explains. “People desire luxury products because they make them look better and feel good. Now with technology, we can make you feel better.”
The Cove device has spent about four years in R&D and been tested more than 3,500 times by individuals in clinical settings, including trials with Butler Hospital at Brown University. In all, more than 90 percent of the participants who used Cove for 30 days experienced a stress reduction of 40 percent, and a sleep quality improvement of nearly 50 percent. If those numbers seem too good to be true, Feelmore’s VP of research, Sean Hagberg, understands.
“When I started with the company, I was a skeptic, too,” he confesses. “But the science is there. Our studies are developed with top experts in the field, approved by outside review boards, conducted by external collaborators. We have a rigorous quality system, so we’re confident that the data is verified.”
Beyond the self-reporting measures, Kress and Hegberg note MRI and brain-imaging data can literally show how impactful the Cove unit is on the part of your brain it’s supposed to be activating. They emphasize, however, that Cove is not a cure for stress and poor sleep.
“Cures are the domain of healthcare; we just want to help you feel better,” Kress says. “Triggering a part of your brain that controls your emotions, even just one time, has benefits. If you use the device daily, new connections form in your brain. Benefits from those new connections increase over time.”
Electrical stimulation has been proven effective as a form of therapy for a multitude of symptoms for years, but Cove’s studies sought to prove that nerves may be activated simply by vibrations and other wavelength frequencies. That’s in line with current trends, such as percussive-massage devices like TheraGun, and photobiomodulation — low-level laser therapy guns — therapies we’ve tried before, with varying degrees of success.
Feelmore Labs has granted us exclusive access to a Cove trial unit, in advance of the sub-$500 unit going on sale this fall. Stay tuned for an in-depth review.