He Designed A Smartwatch App To Help Stop His Dad’s Nightmares–And it was ‘Life-changing’

He Designed A Smartwatch App To Help Stop His Dad’s Nightmares–And it was ‘Life-changing’

For many of the servicemen and women who’ve bravely served in war zones, leaving the horrors of the battlefield behind isn’t as simple as just hanging up their uniforms when they get home.

Post-traumatic stress disorder encompasses a wide range of symptoms. When Tyler Skluzacek, son of combat vet Patrick Skluzaceksaw saw his father’s life unravel as the result of recurring debilitating nightmares, he knew he had to do something about it.

In 2015, when Tyler, then a senior at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, learned of an upcoming collaborative computer programming “hackathon” event in Washington, D.C. focused on developing apps to help people like his dad, he was determined to participate.

With technology patterned on the intuitive countermanding measures PTSD service animals provide, Tyler and his team came up with the prototype for the “anti-night-terror” smartwatch app. The program detects the onset of nocturnal disturbances by measuring the wearer’s heart rate and movement. Before the nightmare can take hold, the app delivers a subtle disruption (equivalent to a gentle nudge or a lick from a dog) to reset the wearer’s sleep pattern.

Calibrating the correct vibration level for the watch proved to be a challenge. It had to deliver “just enough stimulus to pull them out of the deep REM cycle and allow the sleep to continue unaffected,” Tyler said.

With his dad serving as a volunteer Guinea pig, Tyler continued to tweak his creation until the algorithm was pretty much pitch-perfect. Once the glitches were worked out and the app was performing as intended, both father and son were floored by the immediate difference it made in Patrick’s life.

“It was night and day when I put that watch on and it started working,” Patrick said. The vibrations worked like “little miracles.”

Tyler, now a graduate student in computer science at the University of Chicago, realized the potential for the “little miracles” he’d created to help other PTSD sufferers. With the goal of putting his life-changing app into widespread distribution, he sold the rights to an investor.

According to the VA, the newly FDA-approved Apple Watch-compatible technology (marketed under the brand name Nightware) should be available by prescription—transforming nightmares into sweeter dreams and bringing hard-earned rest to deserving military veterans everywhere—in the near future.