This Student Created An App To Help Veterans Combat Night Terrors

By Kaila Hale-Stern on at

Tyler Skluzacek was inspired by the experiences of his father, an Iraq war veteran, to design the myBivy app.

myBivy—the name is drawn from bivouac, a camp where soldiers can rest—tracks heartbeat and movement while asleep. Over time, the app gets to know its user’s sleep habits, and can prevent the onset of panic attacks and night terrors by rousing the sleeper using sound and vibration. There is also the option of sending the sleep reports to a physician for analysis.

“After a couple weeks of tracking the soldier we can find the exact symptoms, the exact symptoms of the onset of the panic attack and try to use the watch or use the android phone to disrupt that or take them out of the deep sleep but keep them asleep,” Tyler told Kare 11 news.

The project sprang from a close-to-home motivation. Tyler’s father Patrick experiences night terrors, and an estimated 20% of veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffer from PTSD-related afflictions—along with 8% of the American population. “Your dad just disappearing for a year and coming back a little bit different and seeing his army buddies and them coming back a little bit different too…I have a real personal connection to the PTSD problem.”

myBivy came to life at HackDC, an intense, 36-hour coding competition. Tyler told Gizmodo that he knew he wanted to work on a project to help soldiers going in, but hadn’t planned on the app initially.

“I actually entered the competition with a number of ‘bad ideas,’ specifically forums, social networks and things to connect struggling soldiers. These were bad ideas because A) They’ve been done before and B) Soldiers at the competition said they wanted something to help them in the short term. As a result, we created myBivy,” he said. Working with teammates Damola, Sarah, Sravya, and Brian and developing the app with a Pebble Time, their team, “The Cure,” won the competition’s Best PTSD Mobile App for Clinicians prize.

This College Student Created An App To Help Veterans Combat Night Terrors

I asked Tyler why the team used a Pebble smartwatch for development. He shared that it was the most affordable option going into the hack. “You’ll also notice it doesn’t have a heart rate sensor. I‘ve been using its data paired with physiological data obtained from a borrowed Fitbit. I love the Pebble Time, and want to encourage those at Pebble to implement an affordable heart rate monitor.”

myBivy now has a Kickstarter campaign, and will use the funds raised therein to offer the app on Android, Apple and Pebble smartwatches and to pair its patient interface with Android and iPhone OS. Kickstarter funds will also help to meet with medical experts and to “test the application on a large scale of those both with and without PTSD.”

Does Tyler foresee myBivy having a variety of applications beyond PTSD-induced night terrors? “Over the last 3 days alone, I’ve spoken with countless people who have presented daytime strategies for managing stress-relief using a variation of our method. We can also use it to study and treat sleep-walking, sleep-paralysis, and other sleep disorders,” he told me.

Right now their main goal is further research and testing. Media coverage has sparked an outpouring of interest—Tyler has already received feedback from more than 200 veterans who are eager to try out the app. “This is a real motivator for us to get myBivy into the hands of those who truly need it.”

Tyler, a senior at Macalester College in Saint Paul, MN (full disclosure: I’m an alum), majors in computer science, applied mathematics and economics. He hopes to get a Ph.D in computer science one day, but may be busy after graduation: since the news of myBivy broke he’s heard from clinical agencies, startups and tech companies—like Google—excited about the possibilities of the app. He wants myBivy to be released as soon as possible and working for the people who need it most. Then he would use the app as “an extension for excellent research that solves hard-hitting problems like PTSD.”

And the possibilities behind myBivy are important for Tyler and his family. “I thought about telling my dad that my idea will help him sleep better someday,” Tyler told Macalester’s Academic News. “And that ‘someday’ is coming up soon.”

[myBivy Kickstarter Campaign]

[Kare 11; Macalester Academic News]

Top image via Macalester College