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Meet the interoceptive pathway, your brain’s natural relaxation system

Your brain has a powerful system, called the interoceptive pathway, that monitors what’s happening inside your body. When functioning smoothly, this pathway promotes feelings of relaxation; and when it’s compromised, you may feel tired and stressed out. New evidence from neuroscience reveals that it is possible to activate the interoceptive pathway through the skin and, in doing so, enhance wellbeing.

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Sleep and stress: common problems with a common source

Stress and poor sleep have been linked to a slew of health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, and depression. In addition to causing the same types of problems, these issues appear to be driven by the same changes in the brain.

Both chronic stress and poor sleep are associated with reduced activity in the interoceptive pathway.

Learn more about the relationship between stress and sleep
brain
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Interoception: The sixth sense you’ve never heard of

Just as we use our eyes and ears to detect what’s happening in the outside world, we use a sense called interoception to keep tabs on what’s happening inside our bodies. Awareness of hunger, your heartbeat, or breathing patterns, for instance, are examples of interoception at work.

The interoceptive pathway receives signals from the skin, lungs, stomach, and the rest of your organs and extremities. It also interacts with the brain’s emotion and memory centers, combining all this information to shape how you feel and act. Indeed, your sense of interoception is deeply entangled with your sense of wellbeing.

When the interoceptive pathway runs smoothly, you experience tangible benefits like good sleep and emotional balance. Compromised interoception, by contrast, can lead to a whole host of problems, including chronic stress and exhaustion. Fortunately, researchers have discovered ways to boost your interoception and, in doing so, improve your wellbeing.

The calming power of touch

Physical contact can be incredibly soothing. Consider, for example, the sense of calm comfort you feel when a loved one gently caresses your arm. That feeling is no accident. It’s called the affective touch response and it works by activating the interoceptive pathway.

Exclusive to social mammals, affective touch refers to the type of slow, soft physical contact that we’re pre-wired to find soothing. Research shows that this form of touch improves interoception by activating a brain structure known as the insula, a critical part of the interoceptive pathway. Compelled by this research, our scientists set out to create a device that would trigger the affective touch response and, in doing so, promote wellbeing. After more than four years of clinical research, we have a product that does just that.

cuddling baby on a woman's shoulder

Gentle touch, at just the right speed and pressure, stimulates special receptors on the skin. This signal is then relayed from the skin to the insula, activating the interoceptive pathway. This activation immediately promotes a sense of relaxation. It also strengthens the interoceptive pathway, improving your sleep and resilience to stress in the future.

Intro to the insula

The power of affective touch depends on a brain region known as the insular cortex, or insula. A richly connected structure within the interoceptive pathway, the insula processes information about what’s happening in your body and in other regions of the brain. In the case of affective touch, the insula serves as a central hub that exchanges signals with both the skin and with brain regions that process emotion.

Put another way, the insula connects your sense of touch to your sense of wellbeing.

Cove’s activation in action

Cove improves sleep and reduces stress by enhancing interoception. These benefits have been validated by a series of clinical studies, including multiple brain imaging experiments.

In a single session, Cove activates the interoceptive pathway and relaxes the brain.

Using a technique called electroencephalography, scientists tracked brain activity during a 20-minute Cove session. They observed an increase in alpha in waves, a type of brain activity that often appears during meditation and indicates relaxation.

From relaxation to resilience

EEG also revealed that Cove prompts changes in brain activity just above the insula, confirming that the device works by activating the interoceptive pathway. While users experience calming brain changes after just one session, further research showed that consistent sessions can lead to more profound changes, including improved resilience to stress. Using fMRI, a type of brain scan, we showed that these benefits are the result of stronger connections between key brain regions.

Learn more about resilience to stress

Over time, Cove strengthens the interoceptive pathway

fMRI studies show that, with consistent daily use, Cove strengthens connections between the insula and brain regions that process emotion. These changes show that Cove’s long-term benefits, including resilience to stress, are the result of a strengthened interoceptive pathway.

Learn more about our EEG study

These benefits have been validated by rigorous research, including independent studies at Brown University and the work of a leading clinical researcher from Harvard Medical School.

3500 total participants

Participants took part in several clinical studies, including exploratory research. Their stress, anxiety, and sleep quality were analyzed while using Cove for both single sessions and over 30 day periods.

90% of participants stressed less and slept better
stress levels
41%
sleep quality
50%

Immediate and lasting stress reduction

Various clinical studies proved that Cove effectively reduces stress. A significant majority of participants experienced less stress after wearing the device, with many still feeling the effects months later.

94%
of highly stressed individuals reported a decrease in stress symptoms
82%
of participants would use the device again to regulate their stress
41%
average decrease in participant stress after using Cove
53%
of participants still felt positive effects of Cove 6 months after the study
View our Stress Research Study Summary

Significant sleep benefits

Sleep studies conducted over 30 days reveal that consistent daily use of Cove led to improved sleep quantity and quality, as well as falling asleep faster.

91%
participants reported improved sleep quality
56%
reduction in insomnia reported by participants
77%
participants reported falling asleep faster
61%
participants reported increased sleep hours
View our Sleep Research Study Summary

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