The biology of stress and the science behind Apollo Vibes

The biology of stress and the science behind Apollo Vibes

Do you ever have so much to do that you can’t focus on anything? Or how about lying awake at night unable to sleep because your mind is racing. Or when you’re run down and sore after a stressful day? There’s a biological reason for all of this. 

Chronic Stress strains the whole body by over-activating our sympathetic nervous system, our fight-or-flight response, that is supposed to kick in when we are facing imminent threats to our survival.

An overactive sympathetic nervous system causes the release of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, making our breathing shallow and fast, and sending our heart rates up and diverting all available resources like blood and oxygen to our heart, lungs, skeletal muscle systems, and to our amygdala (the fear center of our brains) to get us out of harm's way. Since we only have so much blood and oxygen to go around, all the systems that aren’t responsible for survival in those moments, like digestion, reproduction, immunity, and even empathy get deprioritized in order to make sure we get to safety. This is how we survived over time, because our nervous system evolved to not allow us to fall asleep or think about reproduction or getting to know each other when there might be a bear or lion nearby.

When this happens every day or even many times each day, our sleep suffers, we get sick more often, burnout can seem inescapable, and we often become versions of ourselves we’re not proud of, feeling like we’ve lost control of how we feel and how we respond to challenging situations. 

It also becomes physiologically harder to focus, meditate, relax, sleep, exercise and make good decisions because our body and mind are both signaling to each other that we are under threat and need to be escaping danger, not sleeping or focusing on our work [1,2]. It is our lack of awareness of this process that results in most of the undesirable outcomes. And so begins a negative feedback loop of more stress and less sleep and more ‘quick fixes’ like substances. Caffeine and alcohol as common examples that transform from an occasional celebration to a nightly habit. When left unchecked, chronic stress increases our risk of developing insomnia, anxiety-disorders, depression, chronic pain, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic issues to name a few [2-25]. So, how do you bring your nervous system back to a balanced state so it can do its thing and you can feel good about it? It starts with understanding the basics of how our nervous system evolved to protect us beginning with Heart Rate Variability (HRV).

What is HRV? How does chronic stress lower HRV and why does it matter?

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) measures the rate of change of the heart beat over time[2]. Having high HRV is a good thing. It means that your body can quickly adapt and recover from stress.

When we encounter stress in our environment, our heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure should go up so we can quickly respond to a threat[1,2]. When we’re calm, our heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure should be at a comfortable resting rate. This is our body’s way of maintaining balance between thriving and surviving over time.

LOW HRV: Having consistently low HRV indicates that your body isn’t adapting to or recovering well from stress[2].

This could indicate a number of things:

  • You aren’t sleeping well
  • You’ve exhausted your body
  • You’re getting sick

Those of us with consistently low HRV have a higher likelihood of developing:

  • Injuries
  • Insomnia
  • Chronic pain
  • Cardiovascular illness
  • Anxiety-related disorders
  • Depression

HIGH HRV: High HRV indicates that your body is resilient, recovering well, and able to bounce back from stress quickly[2].

The following contribute to high HRV:

  • Restorative sleep
  • Mindfulness practice
  • Balanced diet
  • Regular exercise
  • Healthy relationships
  • Soothing touch
  • Soothing music

Those of us with consistently high HRV are more likely to have better:

  • Focus
  • Calm
  • Performance (athletic and cognitive)
  • Recovery
  • Breathing
  • Pain tolerance
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Sleep
  • Resilience

HRV is the most reliable, non-invasive biometric of stress, providing valuable insight into the balance between the parasympathetic and sympathetic systems[1,2]

The Autonomic Nervous System

The autonomic nervous system governs all the activity in our body from our heart beat, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and hormones to our digestion, blood flow, how much sugar is in our blood, our vision, our reproduction, and the list goes on[1].

Our health and survival (no kidding) are dependent on the dynamic relationships between the two branches of the autonomic nervous system: the parasympathetic (rest and digest) branch and the sympathetic (fight or flight) branch [1].

Parasympathetic branch

The parasympathetic branch is responsible for rest, recovery, and thriving[1, 2]. It is activated by safety. When we are safe enough to sleep, meditate, listen to soothing music or experience soothing touch, our parasympathetic system engages, lowering our heart rate and blood pressure, improving our HRV (heart rate variability), and supporting reproduction, creativity, and energy recovery. This recovery is key so that we have enough energy to survive a threat whenever it comes.

Sympathetic branch

The purpose of our sympathetic “fight-or-flight” system is to kick in so we can survive a threat[1, 2]. When we experience a threat, whether that be a lion or a stressful email, our heart rate and blood pressure go up, blood rushes to the heart and to our muscles, our liver releases sugar into the blood, digestion slows, and reproduction shuts down so we can escape from whatever is threatening us and reach safety.

Bringing it back together

The problem is that stress from modern life (ie. screens and loud noises) is constantly sending signals to our bodies that we’re under threat. This excess of sympathetic activity, our fight-or-flight response, has real consequences for our wellbeing and our long-term health by perpetually disrupting the balance of the autonomic nervous system.

This is really a resource allocation problem because there is only so much blood to share across our whole body and there are billions of cells that want access to it. When our bodies perceive that we’re under threat all the time, it perpetually takes resources away from our bodily systems not critical for survival (ie. reproductive, immune, and digestive systems). By restricting blood flow to these recovery systems and increasing it to feed our heart, lungs, and muscles, there is less blood and therefore less resources and waste removal and, eventually, dysfunction of these important recovery systems, which extends to the whole body including everything from slowing metabolism resulting in weight gain to decreased empathy that interferes with interpersonal relationships.

This is why tools like intentional breathing, exercise, yoga, meditation and mindfulness, biofeedback, calming music, and soothing touch are so helpful to us. They remind us that we are safe and in control right now, which redirects resources back to our recovery systems described above helping us to feel good.

The Science Behind Apollo Vibes

Apollo delivers gentle silent sound waves of vibration (ie. bass) that are demonstrated in the lab, the clinic, and in the real world to improve the balance of our nervous systems through our sense of touch.

Touch changes how we feel, and science proves that. Touch is a powerful sense. Evolutionarily, it is the most important, nearly instantaneous way that mammals communicate safety to one another and is likely hundreds of millions of years old [30-40]. Different forms of touch (vibration, electricity, heat, cold, soothing massage, etc) can change how we feel in ways that can be measured biologically. Extensive reports demonstrate that certain frequencies of vibration are found to be soothing and significantly increase parasympathetic tone, as measured by heart rate variability (HRV), while others can be more energizing, increasing our heart rate and other measures of sympathetic activity[2, 41-54].

What makes Apollo different from any vibration you’ve felt before?

It’s about balance. Apollo isn’t just about relaxing, and it isn’t just about performing. Apollo is about physical and mental balance and we’ve designed patented Vibes to help your body gently transition through your natural response to touch.

How? We combined frequencies of vibration known to change our energy levels by increasing or decreasing parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system activity[41-54]. Vibes designed for rest and relaxation contain more slow-moving gentle frequencies known to increase parasympathetic activity[2, 9, 14, 27-31]. Vibes for energy contain frequencies known in the literature to increase heart rate and blood flow for increased energy and alertness[2, 41-54].

Every single Apollo Vibe, whether it is designed to increase wakefulness or to help you fall asleep, is designed to restore your body and improve HRV.

How does Apollo change HRV?

Apollo vibrations feel like waves, coming and going. This sensation feels natural because it is. Apollo Vibes match a natural oscillation pattern between our heart and our lungs when we breathe, which consistently improves HRV in lab trials and in real world use. When our bodies feel the rhythm of the Apollo Vibes, it is automatically recognized by the body as soothing touch, just like a friend giving you a hug on a bad day.

After learning about all the formative work that came before, the team went beyond the literature to independently test Apollo vibrations in university-led clinical trials. Dr. David Rabin MD, PhD and Dr. Greg Siegle PhD studied the science behind Apollo vibrations at the University of Pittsburgh and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center starting in 2014. They studied how Apollo vibrations would change the body in two double-blind randomized placebo-controlled crossover trials, the most rigorous form of clinical trial, to demonstrate that the effects of Apollo vibrations were much stronger placebo vibrations, and they were.

Preliminary findings show that the specific vibration patterns used in the Apollo technology reliably increase the ability to focus and remain calm during periods of stress. These specific vibration patterns improve the body’s ability to recover and be resilient to stress, as measured by HRV. These improvements in HRV are accompanied by proportionate improvements in cognitive and physical performance under stress, with performance boosts as high as 25%.

Subsequent university trials and pilots in over 1700 subjects, such as the recently published double-blind randomized placebo-controlled crossover trial in elite collegiate athletes, have shown that Apollo consistently improves HRV, sleep, athletic recovery, and meditation. To date, Apollo Neuro is the first and only scientifically validated wearable that improves HRV and recovery just by putting it on.

Each and every vibe is based on our knowledge of the body’s response to sound and we’ve learned so much from listening to our real-world users. They told us how they felt, what they used Apollo for, and they shared their data. Learn more about our clinical research program and see if you’re eligible to participate in any of our ongoing studies!



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