Smartwatch app helps nightmare disorder and PTSD treatment

The app vibrates to disrupt the user's sleep and to bring them out of the nightmare

Nowadays, getting stuck in a traumatic experience such as COVID-19 brings lingering fatigue and terror. Extreme events like the Hurricane Katrina or 9/11 terrorist attacks invade the dreams and disrupt the sleep of those living with trauma. As a result, about 4% of Americans experience distressing and recurring nightmares, which disrupts sleep and impairs daily functioning.

In an effort to help military and war veterans cope with such trauma, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved this week the smartwatch app NightWare as a therapeutic method for nightmare disorder linked to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to Wired, the FDA named the vibrating smartwatch as a "breakthrough device," so it may go through faster approving process for treatments of debilitating and life-threatening disorder. As PTSD has been associated with rising cases of suicide, it has already been included among these illnesses, which can cause symptoms that are hard to cure.

"Nightmare disorder tends to be one of the most invasive parts of PTSD, because you can't escape it," Nightware CEO Grady Hannah said.

Based on the FDA application, NightWare submitted unpublished data from 70 veterans who are part of an ongoing study, which is being done in partnership with Minneapolis VA Medical Center. The study will have a total of 240 veterans throughout the process. It also showed that the Nightware device improved the sleep quality of volunteers.

Researchers also continue to gather data from the app NightWare while the device it is connected with will soon send data to a cloud-based data repository to allow doctors to track a person's sleep metrics. Meanwhile, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services considers adding Medicare for devices that have FDA breakthrough status, which would soon open up a new market aside from military and veteran users.

According to FDA's authorisation announcement, it should be noted that NightWare should not be used to replace existing PTSD medications and therapy or be used solely as a "stand-alone therapy."

"Sleep is an essential part of a person's daily routine," said Office of Neurological and Physical Medicine Devices in the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health director Carlos Peña, Ph.D.. He added the FDA's authorisation offers a low-risk treatment option using digital technology for providing "temporary relief from sleep disturbance related to nightmares."

Nightware app uses Apple Watch sensors to check heart rate and body movements during sleep. These are then analysed and used to develop the patient's sleep profile. The app will then compare pulse and movements, which could detect if the patient experiences nightmare. The app would then cause the smartwatch to vibrate to disrupt the user's sleep and to bring them out of the nightmare.  

From next year on, the NightWare app, which now is only available for Apple Watches, will be available for free by prescription using the US Department of Defence and Veterans Administration health plans of veterans or the military.

Similar articles