Can This New Wearable Reduce Stress By Vibration? Our Honest Review

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Last Updated
Feb 13, 2022

FactCove Stress Wearable, At a Glance

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But I must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born and I will give you a complete account of the system.
  • I tested this $490 device that promises to reduce stress and improve sleep
  • As someone with moderate anxiety and poor sleep quality, I found improvements in both areas
  • Medical professionals consulted find the science behind Cove as being promising
  • While comfortable for daily use, some fit improvements could be made
  • The current iteration of the app has some room to grow

The shock that flew up my left arm was so pronounced, I felt like I’d stuck a fork in an electrical socket. As I had finished twitching, a sharp pain skewered my chest, a succession of stabs piercing my heart. My left hand scrambled, covering it, an ineffective attempt to mitigate the sensation. The pain was growing, clawing up my neck. The thump of my heartbeat grew louder and more frantic in my ears. My wide eyes darted across the bed to my wife, buried in her phone. 

“I think I’m having a heart attack,” I stammered.  

This was the night before Thanksgiving in 2020 and chief among the places you endeavor to avoid during a surge of COVID is the emergency room. My concerned wife, denied entrance to the facility, gave me a tearful squeeze, tightened my N95 mask, and slipped a phone charger into my pocket before I was taken in. 

The battery of tests concluded six hours later, at dawn, all negative. “You have a slight arrhythmia, but your heart seems okay otherwise,” the attending doctor said, upon my discharge. A consultation with a cardiologist was recommended and I dragged myself home, tired, shaken, and worried. 

Discovering My Anxiety

Disconcerting episodes continued while I waited for the appointment with the cardiologist. While cooking dinner, my Apple watch flagged my rapid heartbeat as erratic, and I hyperventilated to the point of feeling faint. Amid highway driving, pain pangs rocketed through my torso, leaving me woozy and trembling, barely able to get the car to a safe stop. 

The cardiologist subjected me to rounds of new imaging. A Holter monitor—a portable ECG device to record all heart activity—was taped to my chest for seven days straight. A final stress test was ordered, wherein I sprinted on an inclined treadmill until my heart felt like exploding and then was immediately inspected via ultrasound. Again, everything came back healthy and normal. 

“Are there any new stresses in your life?” the cardiologist probed. 

Uh, yes: the crushing feeling of living in New York City during the height of lockdown, I had recently started a new, demanding job, and my wife and I were in the middle of buying a house. 

He nodded. “Individually, each of those are huge stressors. Combine them and that’s overwhelming. All signs are pointing to an anxiety attack. Have you had one of those before?” 

Anxiety itself was a new arrival in my life, first barging through my door in mid-summer 2020. I quelled it by working out obsessively and panic-buying a hot tub for my balcony, but my anxiety had been mental, never something that manifested painful physical sensations. Now, it seemed I had graduated. How lucky. 

Medical advice for achieving optimal health boils down to four core recommendations: eat healthier than not, get more sleep, exercise regularly, and avoid undue stress. A vast array of chronic comorbidity conditions can be staved off by adhering to these (seemingly) simple tenets. The cardiologist’s rote spiel, advocating the above, made sense in theory. In practice, however, stress and anxiety-causing scenarios crop up everywhere, particularly heightened by the global pandemic. 

In terms of stress management, my hot tub helped, but clearly not enough. I’m not one who responds favorably to meditation or adjacent calming apps; it’s too hard to shut my brain down enough to achieve the desired results. Pills like Xanax are fine enough to treat the symptoms but they don’t address the root problems, and inhaling benzodiazepines like TicTacs is a recipe for further disaster. Truly, there are few options for retraining how your brain copes with stress and anxiety on the foundational level. 

Enter Cove, from Feelmore Labs

Meet Cove

Cove is a new $490 wearable device that claims to reduce stress and improve sleep through specific and gentle vibrations behind your ears. During the recommended 20 minute daily sessions, those proprietary frequencies purport to activate the part of your brain that regulates your response to stressors. Over time, this process reportedly slowly strengthens the neural response and key brain connections to help you be more impervious to stress. 

Per Feelmore Lab’s clinical research, 90 percent of people who used Cove for 30 days experienced 41 percent less stress and their sleep quality improved by nearly 50 percent. The marketing materials term the unit as “a hug for your mind.” 

Bold claims from a simple wearable, right? To see how it stacks up against those promises, the folks at Feelmore Labs sent me a test unit to try. After six months of use, here’s my honest review.

What's Great About Cove

  • Prolonged use led to a reduction in stress and anxiety, improved sleep
  • Effects seem long-lasting, even after device cessation
  • Medical professionals agree that there’s something to the science behind this
  • It’s simple to use and has no bad side effects

What Needs Improvement

  • The design could be improved for added comfort and better aesthetics
  • The companion app could have more robust functionality
  • More peer-reviewed, placebo-arm studies are needed to ensure efficacy
  • High price point

The Packaging

It’s got the sleek, minimalist feel that we’ve come to expect from connected health devices, with a compact cardboard cube housing the Cove unit, a grey carrying case for the unit, and a USB charging cable. A QR code within the box helps get you over to Cove’s app for downloading.

The Design and Comfort of the Cove Wearable

The Cove unit itself looks like a headset that loops around the back of your head, with ear loops to help keep the sensor and proprietary vibration technology aligned against your temporal bone. Aesthetically, there’s some room for a glow-up for future versions of the Cove wearable. The current design vibe reminds me a bit of an early Jawbone Up fitness tracker, but it’s not unsightly.  

The exterior is made of soft-touch plastic and rubber, adequately flexible and malleable. The pads that cover where the vibration motors are housed are slightly softer and thinner, a bid to help deliver the proper vibrations at the right cadence and intensity. The ear loops are also very flexible. 

Each side of the unit connects to a smaller sizing band that allows you to pull the sides apart to achieve the right size opening for your head. I wish this band was a little longer so that the unit would fit more comfortably on my large noggin. The bottom of the back of the band rests atop the base of your neck. The vibration pads rest on the skin behind your ears, while the ear loops help it stick there. When it’s on, from the front, it’s very hard to tell you’re wearing anything, particularly over video chats. I’d routinely wear it during Zoom meetings and no one ever noticed. From the sides or back, it’s visible. 

The Cove device is a light unit, so it doesn’t feel encumbering in terms of weight, but the position of the band against my neck and the lack of a wide enough opening for my head do mean that when I’m wearing it and lift my head significantly, there’s some resistance and I feel the unit shifting around. The vibration areas seem to be aligning in the right places, though. 

It’s a comfortable device to wear for extended periods of time, especially when sitting at a desk and doing computer work. Then, I often found myself forgetting it was even on my head. Its presence became more pronounced when in bed, or on the couch. In prone positions, the unit would push into the back of my ears a bit. It’s not a painful sensation, but it wasn’t the epitome of comfort either. Lastly, I sometimes wear glasses and the stems would have to rest atop of the Cove ear loops, meaning my glasses fit wasn’t as secure, though there was no change to the fit or comfortability of the Cove. 

While noting the first Cove device came out “very well,” adding the team is pleased at the efficacy of the technology itself, Feelmore Lab’s Co-Founder and CEO Francois Kress acknowledges further refinements to the design are already underway. “We do have a smaller, more flexible version two,” he shares with Editorialist. “It addresses two main pieces of feedback we received: that the Cove is not necessarily comfortable when lying down, or wearing glasses,” Kress smiles, motioning to his own glasses. “As the technology gets better, the components get smaller; our fit can be more comfortable.” Feelmore further says that “significant adjustments are being made to further optimize the fit.” 

Overall, I found Cove to be very comfortable and enjoyed wearing it. The only comfort drawbacks were narrow width, feeling the unit shift when I lifted my head, and using it with glasses or laying down. 

The Science: Here’s How Cove Works

In short, Cove’s using mechanical vibrations to evoke the benefits of affective touch therapy. “We first explored the connection between the skin and the nervous system and then built a device which activates this connection by vibrating on the skin," says Kress. 

Certain vibrations and frequencies could be used to trigger the effects of affective touch, which is a specific type of slow or gentle touch our brains are hardwired to receive as comforting. These reactions, in turn, produce profound feelings of relaxation and generally de-stress you. The scientists at Feelmore Labs figured out the optimal frequency of vibrations that could activate your mind similarly, offering similar benefits, including relaxation and better sleep, as both are associated with dysregulated activity in your brain.

The best conduit for the application of the vibrations was determined to be a wearable device, and the location of the vibration contact—your temporal bone, behind your ears—was so selected by Feelmore Labs due to maximum comfort and efficacy after the Feelmore researchers own clinical studies of more than 3,500 participants. The location showed that specific touch receptors in this area responded best to the stimulation, and that locale is also rich in various nerve fibers. 

It’s non-invasive and has no harmful side effects. No drugs, electricity, or magnetic waves are transmitted into your body; only vibrations atop your skin. The idea is that 20 minutes of daily light vibrations—stronger is not better here; you want to barely perceive the vibrations on your skin for optimal results—are perfectly calibrated to help reach and stimulate your insular cortex, a region on the brain that’s responsible for processing information about how your body’s doing. When the insular cortex is triggered by something like affective touch, it connects your sense of touch to your sense of wellbeing, specifically, increasing your state of relaxation. 

As the signal passes through your neural interoceptive pathways on its way to the insular cortex, it also strengthens those pathways, Feelmore claims, meaning your body will build resilience to stress in the future. The less stress, the better you sleep. 

Stress reduction and improved sleep are, perhaps, merely the tip of the iceberg. “We’re looking at other elements that can improve your mental health,” Kress hints about possible future Cove applications. “Other vibration patterns can modulate other areas within the brain. We have some anecdotal evidence surrounding cognition, attention, and memory; we’re studying those now.”

What Do Doctors Think About the Science Behind Cove?

Feelmore Labs conducted more than four years of extensive clinical research, helmed by experts in neuromodulation, mood disorders, and sleep science. This research was conducted nationally, including, in part, at Brown University led by a researcher from Harvard Medical School. However, at the present time, Cove has not been part of a published peer-review study. (Feelmore Labs did add that several studies on Cove have been peer-reviewed and presented at professional conferences. Several of these and other studies are currently under peer-review at journals and will be published soon.) 

We asked two doctors, who are not affiliated with Feelmore Labs nor have used a Cove device, to weigh in on the science behind the Cove unit. 

Dr. Sanam Hafeez is a neuropsychologist who oversees Comprehend the Mind, and is a faculty member at Columbia University. “There is science behind this and I’m intrigued by it,” Dr. Hafeez told us. 

Dr. Hafeez likened Cove to transcranial magnetic stimulation devices, in that parts of your brain are able to be stimulated from the outside. “A good massage can leave you feeling fantastic and Cove sounds like it’s somewhat similar. [Cove] purports to stimulate the skin behind the ears and stimulate your posterior insular cortex, the part of the brain that controls emotions but also anxiety and stress and the relieving of those two things. Deep inside your brain, this area is not accessible by any other way. However, nerve endings in different parts of your body can help connect those dots. It’s like acupuncture; stimulate the nerves here and your brain can be affected there.” 

Something that’s non-invasive and naturally stimulates the brain would help produce more alpha waves, says Dr. Hafeez. “Those are the relaxation waves. When we listen to music we like or get a massage, those alpha waves start. Even meditation can produce alpha waves,” she says. Couple that with the fact that you can indeed train the brain—“It can adapt and learn. It’s an amazing organ”—if Cove is able to induce alpha waves regularly, the brain could start to learn to produce more alpha waves on its own, leading to an increased state of relaxation. “I don’t know if [Feelmore] has been able to prove this is happening with the science; I haven’t seen the actual research to see this, and I’d like to see more peer and empirical research. But I’m heartened by this,” Dr. Hafeez concludes. 

As a core proposition of Cove is that it improves sleep, we also spoke with Dr. Alice Hoagland, who is the director of the insomnia clinic at Rochester Regional Health and a board certified sleep specialist. “This is relatively new research that may, in fact, have some benefit in the long run,” Dr. Hoagland says. “I’m reminded of some interesting research with Parkinson's patients with ambulatory mobility. If you get them to walk in the beat of music, if their brain can focus, it helps significantly with mobility. It’s different from stimulation, but it tells you you can train people to overcome basic neurological issues with frequency and sounds.” 

“There is a modicum of science to indicate external cranial stimulation through stroking or vibrating can stimulate the brain into producing alpha waves,” she tells us. “Alpha waves are associated with relaxed wakefulness. If indeed Cove does routinely stimulate that, it would perhaps help with chronic anxiety. People who are anxious have fewer alpha waves and more beta waves.” 

Dr. Hoagland is quick to add that, “Whether that ultimately translates into increased sleep or better quality sleep is a gigantic question. Plenty of patients who have insomnia aren’t anxious at all.” Dr. Hoagland echoed wanting to see further peer-reviewed studies, too. “If [Cove] makes you relaxed and awake and less agitated, it could be a bit of a leap to say it improves your sleep. I’m not saying that it doesn’t work to help you reduce anxiety and feel more relaxed and, because of those two things, you have better sleep. There’s just not enough data with a placebo arm.”  

How Effective is Cove at Reducing Stress and Improving Sleep?

In my personal experience, Cove is effective at reducing stress and improving the quality of my sleep.

My Anxiety and Stress Levels After One Month of Use

I used Cove per the companion app’s recommendations, which was 20 minutes, once per day, at the softest vibration setting I could feel. The sensation itself is pulsating and feels slightly calming, but I didn’t feel much beyond that for the first 15 or so days. Feelmore Labs says some people report feeling relaxed during initial sessions, but I wasn’t one of them. 

Because the effect is cumulative, as with fitness workouts, use compliance is key. After two weeks, I did start to feel calmer in situations where I’d priorly reacted with anxiety or anger. For me, anxiety feels like a small patch of warmth around my heart. That warm sensation grows larger and hotter in direct correlation to how anxious or stressed I’m feeling. Prior to Cove, I’d be able to physiologically understand how anxious I was based on this sensation—always too sizable and intense for my liking. 

After a few weeks of Cove, similar stress triggering situations that would have unleashed a searing flood all over my torso were resulting in smaller reactions; cooler ones. Things felt more manageable; I felt more at ease. After one month of daily 20 minute sessions, during the work day, I felt at least 25 percent calmer. 

I started tinkering with more immediate use cases, to see if there was any efficacy there. “We have studies where we showed pictures to provoke anxiety and fear and then saw how fast the subject calmed down—with and without a Cove,” Kress tells us. “We saw a faster return to normal with the device. When you have a strong stress reaction, the more likely you are to feel Cove’s effects faster.” The minute I felt the warmth pulsing and growing in my chest, I scrambled to activate Cove, and within a few minutes, I did notice a more immediate decline in anxiety, by up to 50 percent of what I had been priorly feeling in those trigger moments. 

It’s important to note the difference between a reduction in anxiety and an increase in relaxation, because you can reduce anxiety but still not feel relaxed. I experienced both; a calmer sense of daily navigation and fewer of the negative symptoms associated with anxiety. 

My Sleep Quality After One Month of Use

My sleep for the first month did start to improve albeit slightly. I have a horrendous time achieving enough quality sleep. Many of my problems stem from poor sleep hygiene—I bring a phone to bed, I watch TV in bed, I keep irregular hours—but I’m also unable to shut my brain off enough for meaningful rest. In the middle of the pandemic, my sleep grew so poor that I was relying too heavily on Ambien too often, per the cardiologist. I always felt I needed that pill to silence my incessant inner monologue and allow me to get some good delta and theta waves going. 

What I noticed after a month of daytime use of Cove was that I had stopped reaching for the Ambien bottle as much. I transitioned from a pill almost every night to two or three per week. I was able to fall asleep faster; instead of the usual hour of my brain churning before I would drift off, I was asleep within 30 minutes. I started waking up feeling better, though that could also be a byproduct of not having an enormous amount of residual Ambien coursing through my system. 

My Anxiety and Stress Levels After Six Months of Use

After months of sustained use, I’m happy to report that my overall stress level feels lower than when I started using Cove. (This comes as pleasant news given that the volume of stressors in my life has only increased.) What’s more, I’m able to approach stressful situations without feeling the negative effects of anxiety as significantly as before. I still feel it, sometimes, but the burning sensation in my chest has been reduced by at least 50 percent. 

After chatting with Kress about usage rates, he suggested I try two 20-minute sessions per day. While there’s no harm in using Cove more frequently, the internal findings were that there isn’t much increased benefit from longer sessions or more frequent sessions, either. Still, I upped it to once during the day, and once just before bed. I find that I feel the onset of calmness faster during and after the day sessions. (I’ll get to the bedtime sessions in the sleep quality section, coming up next.) 

I also was curious how much of my improvements were due to the device itself versus due to a placebo effect, so I took a month off to see how I would feel without the device. During that month, I loaned it to a friend who has full blown panic attacks that are rather debilitating. He used it diligently for 30 days, and had a similar experience to mine. 

When I checked in after his first week, his reply was “I’m not really seeing a difference.” A week later, out of the blue, he texted, “This thing works. Just was pretty stressed about a project and put it on. Now I feel much more relaxed.” That stark difference was surprising to him, and he noted that while he wasn’t cured of his issues, he felt far better about stressful situations. He added, “I’m sleeping better, too.” 

During that same month apart from the device, I noticed a small regression in how I felt. I was a bit moodier, and had more noticeable anxiety in some stressful environments, but even with that half-step backward, it was still a solid leap forward from where I felt before using Cove. 

Upon return of the device, I resumed daily sessions and found the effects as pronounced as they were before I had stopped. 

Is this the most clinical analysis as to whether the Cove truly bears the acclaim for helping improve my stress and anxiety levels? No, but to me it’s an indicator that it does have some appreciable effects on my brain. 

My Sleep Quality After Six Months of Use

The biggest development here is that I no longer use Ambien at all. That feels like a huge win, given my prior dependency. I haven’t rectified my poor sleep hygiene either, so it’s not like I can attribute progress here to other external factors; I still watch TV in bed until far too late, I still go to bed at irregular hours, and I still constantly check my phone while in the bedroom. 

Yet I’ve been able to get more restful sleep more often. It’s not always; I still have plenty of listless nights where I spend too long staring at the ceiling. But I’d say my sleep has improved about 30 percent and I’ll happily take that. I noticed that I do fall asleep faster, on average, when I’ve used the device directly before bed than when I used it earlier in the day.  And I wake up feeling rejuvenated more often when I’ve used it right before bed. 

Upon sharing the anecdotal benefits I had experienced with Dr. Hoagland, she responded, “with regards to insomnia, people are very responsive to a placebo effect, and I mean this in a positive way. I’m not saying [experiencing positive results from Cove] is a placebo effect by any means but, given that we know this, it’s critically important that before something can be touted as beneficial it should be compared to a non-active substance or a non-active device.” 

When I brought up the subject of placebo with Kress, he said, “You can cure people with placebo. [Placebo] activates parts of the brain, too.” Cove conducted double-blinded trial studies done against a placebo stimulation, Kress explains, where the vibrations were “different than Cove’s. Our results show significantly better results with our proprietary vibrations versus placebo.” 

The Robustness of the Cove App

Right now, the app’s function is to be more of a diary or log. It’ll track the number of days and sessions you’ve completed with the unit, it'll let you self-report how you feel, it’ll help remind you to use Cove at a time of day that you specify, and you can turn the device on or off from the app (via Bluetooth), as well as modify the unit’s intensity. (Physical buttons on the unit allow for this control as well.) It performs all of those functions well, though it’s a little lacking for a device of this price point. 

“Our companion app started as an on-boarding tool. It helped you track your usage and remotely control the device,” Kress says, noting the future roadmap will see the addition of far more robustness. “New features are being rolled out all the time, including the self-reporting questionnaires post-session, and to track your sleep and stress levels.” In concert with hardware within the unit—a heart rate sensor and accelerometer to determine motion—the biometric data can be correlated with your self-reporting, potentially leading to a more personalized Cove experience including new vibrations.  

 “Also down the road is the creation of a community of Cove users, a place where they’re able to share experiences and mental wellness journeys,” says Kress. There are also tentative plans to connect the unit to smartwatches, though that compatibility is not available at the moment.

The Durability of Cove

Physically, the unit feels cohesive, solid and built to last. I didn’t notice any wear issues or concerns after six months of moderate usage. A single battery charge holds for about four days with normal session use, and the battery life hasn’t diminished with repeated chargings. The unit comes with a 1-year warranty on the device, which covers any repairs or defects.

Ease of Use

In terms of the device itself, it’s fairly straightforward and easy to connect to your phone and get started. It took mere minutes from removing it from the box until it was vibrating on my head. I didn’t have any hiccups with subsequent sessions either. Use compliance is probably the largest hurdle; you have to remember to use it every day to get the cumulative effects building. The reminder notification from the app is a nice helper.

Value: Is Cove Worth $490?

Cove’s price tag is steep. It may be hard to put a price on your mental health, but the cost of decreasing your stress and increasing blissful slumber is $490. (You can do installment payments of $41 per month for 12 months, with zero interest through the company’s website). 

Yes, there are cheaper ways to produce those calming alpha waves. A cup of green tea that contains 200 mg of L-theanine will produce similar relaxing results. Meditation, equally effective at increasing alpha waves and decreasing anxiety-associated beta waves, is free. And there’s the fact that placebo effects may be at play, on some level. 

Still, it’s cheaper than a year’s worth of talk therapy, it’s healthier than ingesting medications, and, for me, it was more effective than both. I’d conclude that the value is there.

FactFinal Verdict: Would I Buy a Cove?

Rimmel Volume Colourist Mascara
But I must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born and I will give you a complete account of the system.
  • Yes, I Absolutely Would
    The beneficial changes that using Cove have brought were substantial enough to make me a believer. I’m not cured, my stress wasn’t cancelled, and I’m still not the world’s best sleeper; but the quality of my life has improved in a noticeable and meaningful way. And that’s worth every penny.
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