Sleep Technology Q & A

So You Want to be a Sleep Tech?

Often people call the Atlanta School of Sleep Medicine and Technology to investigate training options in sleep medicine and technology. While the majority of individuals who have attended our school have respiratory, EEG, or other medically-related backgrounds, we frequently receive queries from people exploring new careers. We realized that we need to provide information to assist and encourage newcomers to this fascinating field. Please visit "How to Become a RPSGT" for specific step-by-step information.

What is a Polysomnographic Technologist?

Most of us know how a bad night's sleep will affect us the next day. Imagine feeling that way every day, for years!

Thousands of Americans suffer the effects of sleep disorders every night and day. Some have difficulty sleeping when they want to, others have difficulty staying awake and focused when they need to.

There are dozens of recognized sleep disorders. Some can be diagnosed with a visit to a doctor who is a Board Certified Sleep Specialist. In some cases, a recording of the patient's sleep is needed to diagnose and treat the sleep disorder. The sleep recording is usually done in a sleep lab and performed by the polysomnographic technologist. The sleep lab may be located in a hospital, office building or even a hotel.

The Role of the Polysomnographic Technologist

Polysomnographic Technologists (sometimes called "sleep techs" for short) work as members of a health care team to help diagnose and treat sleep disorders.

Diagnosis

When a patient is referred to the sleep lab for testing, the Polysomnographic Technologist greets the patient, shows them the bedroom where they will be recorded and attaches sensors to the patient's skin surface. The sensors are glued or taped to the patient's scalp, face, legs and body.

After the sensors are applied, the patient settles in bed and the recording begins. While the patient sleeps, the technologist is busy watching both the video monitor of the patient and the recorded brainwaves, eye movements, muscle and breathing activity of the patient. They make careful notations to assist in the interpretation of the recording.

In the morning, the technologist ends the recording and removes the sensors from the patient.

The entire recording is then reviewed and analyzed for the length and quality of sleep and for the presence of abnormal breathing or movements that have affected the sleep quality. A report is generated, reviewed for accuracy and given to the doctor who will diagnose the sleep disorder.

Treatment

Many patients who have a sleep study have some degree of Obstructive Sleep Disordered Breathing. They have repeated episodes of a completely or partially blocked upper airway that leads to repeated drops in oxygen and brief interruptions of the sleep cycle.

A common method of treating this disorder is Nasal CPAP, (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure), which requires the patient to wear a soft mask over his/her nose, which is attached by a hose to a small air blower at the bedside. When the patient wears Nasal CPAP, his obstructive breathing and snoring are eliminated and the patient enjoys a normal sleep. Different patients require different levels of air pressure and the usual method of determining the proper pressure is called CPAP Titration.

A Polysomnographic Technologist usually performs the CPAP titration. This often involves a process of patient education and training followed by careful observation and pressure adjustments during the recording.

Polysomnographic Technologists also may participate in the follow-up care of the CPAP user.

Work Hours

Most sleep recordings are made during the patient's usual sleep hours. So many PSG techs work during the evening and night. Often the shift is 10-12 hours and the work week is sometimes limited to 3 nights. Depending on the size of the sleep lab, several techs may work together or the sleep tech may work alone for the entire night.

These factors require the ability to remain awake, alert and maintain good interpersonal skills throughout the night as well as the ability to get proper sleep during the day.

The PSG analysis is usually performed during the day along with some types of sleep recording.

Daytime positions are usually obtained after spending some time performing the recordings at night. A daytime position may involve arriving early in the morning, staying late in the evening or may involve normal business hours.

Background, Education and Training

PSG techs often have experience in performing medical procedures or providing medical care. Many have worked previously as EEG or Neurodiagnostic Technologists, Respiratory Therapists, Cardiac technicians or EMTs.

Some have no previous medical experience and require additional school or training time.

Since the field is relatively new and rapidly growing, training is varied and may be "on-the-job training", and/or attending some level of formal training program. Training programs may last days, weeks or years. The amount, type of previous experience, and/or formal training required will vary.

There are three levels of sleep techs:

  1. Polysomnographic Technician Trainee, who usually require direct supervision while learning the skills
  2. Polysomnographic Technician, who may work nights to record the sleep study and perform titrations, or work days to analyze the recordings and prepare a report.
  3. Registered Polysomnographic Technologist,(RPSGT) who has the required experience and knowledge to pass a difficult national exam. RPSGTs typically work days and may have supervisory duties.

The Professional Association

Although it is not usually required, many polysomnographic technicians/technologists are members of their national organization, the American Association of Sleep Technologists (AAST). The AAST performs national surveys of technician/technologists, provides annual awards, educational courses, and maintains committees to ensure that standards of care and practice in the profession are developed and maintained. The website for the organization is http://www.aastweb.org/.

The AAST monitors both federal and state legislative and regulatory activity that might affect job classifications as well as the health and safety of the nation or reimbursement of sleep-related medical procedures.

The Outlook

The need for polysomnographic technicians/technologists is expected to continue to grow in the coming years due to the increasing awareness of the ability to diagnose and treat sleep disorders and the risk posed by a sleep disorder that is undiagnosed and untreated.

Steps to Take

STEP 1

Call your local hospital or sleep center and determine for yourself the need for polysomnographic technologists in your area. Nationally, the job market for sleep techs is excellent but regional needs may vary. Find out the training expectations and experience level required in your area. Do technologists need to be registered? Does the hospital subsidize a training program? Do they provide their own on-the-job training? What pay scale do sleep techs fall under?

Tip: You may want to purchase the 2003 Demographic, Salary and Educational Needs Survey published by the American Association of Sleep Technologists.

For information on requirements to become a Registered Polysomnographic Technologist (RPSGT), you should visit the web site for the Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists (BRPT) --- http://www.brpt.org/.

STEP 2

Talk to individuals who work in the sleep medicine field. What are their reactions? How do you feel about working nights? Most sleep jobs - particularly for newcomers - will take place at night. Does your personal situation enable you to get quality sleep during daytime hours?

Talk to friends or family members who have had sleep studies. What was their experience like? How did they relate to the technologist?

Will you be comfortable working in a quiet environment? The ideal technician-to-patient ratio is 1 to 2. While you will be busy with your job responsibilities, you may have limited interaction with co-workers, particularly in smaller labs. Can you work independently?

STEP 3

Read, read and read some more. This costs you nothing. Start on the AAST web site - http://www.aastweb.org/. This is the professional society for sleep technicians. Find out about different sleep technology jobs which are described in detail. Learn about legislation that may affect your future career. And, utilize the chat forums to direct your questions to others who are experienced and willing to share.

Visit the site for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine: www.aasmnet.org There is a wealth of information for the professional as well as the public. The National Sleep Foundation http://www.sleepfoundation.org/, responsible for bringing sleep issues to public attention, should not be missed. Binary Sleep (http://www.binarysleep.com/) is another resource available to sleep professionals. Perhaps the most comprehensive sleep resource on the web is the Sleep Medicine Home Page: www.users.cloud9.net/~thorpy/ where you are likely to find the answer to anything sleep-related.

STEP 4

Still interested? Investigate training programs. Sleep technology is taught in a variety of ways. Courses are sometimes included in the curriculum for respiratory therapists and neurodiagnostic professionals. Polysomnographic Technology has been offered in Associate Degree programs or through correspondence. There are several sleep training programs that draw people nationally. They may vary from 1-2 weeks to several months including some type of internship. Often these are categorized as certificate programs The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has developed an 80-hour program entitled the American Academy of Sleep Technology Education Program (A-Step). The world wide web is an excellent resource to find a program suitable for your needs.