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Student helps create app that prevents night terrors in vets

21-year-old supports those with PTSD

The team that created MyBivy, called The Cure, from left: Sarah Kirby, Tyler Skluzacek, Sravya Kalva, Damola Adediran and Brian Burack. Photo courtesy of Kickstarter

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A new app that's in the works will help post-traumatic stress disorder patients quell night terrors - something that one of its college-aged developers knows all about.

When 21-year-old Tyler Skluzacek isn't busy working on his triple major of economics, computer science and applied math - and yes, you read that right - he's busy fielding calls from sleep experts, Veterans Affairs folks and media outlets wanting to know more about the app he's perfecting.

Tyler and four other college students recently teamed up at a programming competition to create a mobile app to help PTSD symptoms in veterans. Tyler said the team came up with some bad ideas at first - forums and social networks that had already been done. But eventually, they reached out for real inspiration - Tyler's dad.

Army Sgt. First Class Patrick Skluzacek spent a year in Iraq when his son was in middle school. He came back with PTSD and night terrors.

"Being on the phone with my dad at the competition and talking to other veterans who were actually there, we realized we could create something that would help them right now," Tyler said. "So we came up with MyBivy."

The name itself - MyBivy - is a reference to a bivouac, a type of temporary military camp where soldiers sleep. Tyler said his team worked on MyBivy for about 36 hours straight before presenting it to competition judges. They won the "Best App for Clinicians" award, along with $1,500 in startup money.

So how does MyBivy work? Well, first let's clear up what night terrors actually are.

Night terrors are a type of sleep disorder in which stress, tension and conflict can cause sufferers to be upset and restless a few hours after going to bed. Sometimes they scream, cry and talk wildly, even though their eyes might be wide open. They have trouble waking from the terror and often can't be comforted. Most sufferers don't remember these incidents.

"When you have a night terror, there are things happening in your body before it even happens that will trigger it," Tyler said, giving the example of an elevated heart rate. "What we intended to do is build an app that can learn from each person, because the same person will have the same triggers over time."

The app works on Tyler's dad. The team is now busy customizing it for the individual needs of others; that's what makes it different from other sleep apps.

MyBivy is meant to be used in tandem with a smartwatch and smartphone. Each person's varying sleep habits and triggers are tracked by the smartwatch.

"You'll wear (the smartwatch) for a couple of weeks. It'll learn, basically, how you react to a night terror and what causes you to have one," Tyler said. "What it really attempts to do is break you out of it right before it happens, and it shouldn't wake you up."

The smartphone will compute the data while the patient is sleeping. They can look at it the next day to see if a night terror was stopped, or if they're just sleeping better than normal.

"It should help anyone who is already asleep in trying to stay asleep," Tyler said.

He was quick to say the app is not a cure, though.

"It's more of a Band-Aid. PTSD is deep within one's mental state," he said.

The free app is currently in the development stage, but Tyler said his team is hoping to test it on people's wrists by January. If all goes well, they'll officially roll it out in March.

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