Polysomnographic Technologists (Sleep Techs) perform overnight, daytime or home sleep studies, polysomnograms, on people with suspected sleep disorders. They conduct tests on patients in order to provide physicians with the information needed to diagnose sleep disorders. Polysomnographic technologists are sometimes referred to as sleep technicians. Using specialized equipment, Sleep Techs monitor brain waves, eye movement, muscle activity, breathing and blood oxygen variables during sleep. In advance of tests, Sleep Techs calibrate and maintain equipment, explain testing objectives and procedures to patients, and perform mask fittings. Throughout the process, Sleep Techs are keenly focused on patient safety and infection control.
In the U.S. and worldwide, the process for becoming a polysomnographic technologist is primarily either on-the-job or certificate based. There are associate level programs that award a degree in polysomnographic technology. After an education program is complete, the student is eligible for credentialing by the Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists, a non-profit credentialing agency based in the U.S. but serving polysomnographers worldwide. The BRPT maintains credentialing for more than 35 countries including Canda and the U.S. as well as more than 17,000 individuals working in the industry.
Sleep Techs work in “sleep centers” which may be located in hospitals or free-standing physicians’ offices or sleep disorder clinics. Their weekly work hours vary from 8 to 10 hour shifts. Technicians work with people of all ages, including newborn infants, children, adults and geriatric patients. They must understand the different responses that are typical of each age group. Sleep Techs typically are assigned two patients at a time. They are paid on an hourly basis and are eligible for overtime and vacation, pension/401K, and health insurance benefits.
What is it like to be a Sleep Tech?
Sleep Techs help patients and physicians solve the mystery of sleep disorders substantially improving the patient’s quality of life. Patients awakening after treatment often experience dramatic and immediate improvement in the quality of sleep and the sleep tech sees their reaction first hand. Patients with sleep disorders suffer from general fatigue, mood swings, headaches, and hypertension. They have a greater likelihood of heart attack and stroke. Sleep disorders are one of the fastest growing health concerns in the country. Sleep Techs help provide the answer that ultimately leads to a solution providing peace of mind and improved health to patients and their families. The work setting is highly professional, calm and less stressful than many health professions.
Sleep technicians use a polysomnograph. This machine converts electrical impulses in the body to a graphical representation on paper. Polysomnograph tracings last throughout the night and can be more than 1,000 pages. Technicians test and calibrate equipment and perform troubleshooting when a machine doesn’t work right.
Polysomnographic technologists must understand how the cardiopulmonary system works during each sleep stage. When conducting a sleep study, a technician attaches electrodes to a patient’s face, chest, head or arms. The equipment reads various data. The technician coordinates readings from several systems according to the sleep stages. At the end of the test, the technician interprets the information.
There are three paths to become a registered Sleep Tech. One can attend a CAAHEP accredited program lasting 8 to 12 months and, upon graduation, sit for the certification exam available through the Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists. Alternatively, interested candidates can work in a sleep center for 18 months to become eligible to take the exam. Those selecting this alternative are required to participate in a self-study program to prepare for the exam which is reputedly very challenging. Pathway three includes 546 hours of clinical experience.
Sleep Techs can materially improve their career alternatives and compensation by advancing their level of education to an associate’s degree in Electroneuro Diagnostic Technologist.