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How To Be A Sleep Technologist
The official title for a sleep technologist is actually a "Registered Polysomnographic Sleep Technologist" or R.PSG.T. This is the gold standard for sleep technologists and it is an exciting career! As a tech, one of the most frequently asked questions was, "How do you get to do this for a living?"
First, I always laugh, you have to have a sleep disorder. It is required. In truth it isn't but it takes a special kind of person to be able to work nights and sleep days. Unless you are Robert Pattinson or Kristin Stewart.
Sleep medicine is in it's infancy - when I began working in sleep there was no such thing as "sleep school." Many people are attracted to this position because they think they get to sleep for a job. This is not the case and quite the opposite. There are many facets to this job and breaking into the field may not be easy but if you are determined there are plenty of opportunities and room for advancement.
Sleep Tech 1
Every technician must learn how to properly apply the equipment necessary to perform a sleep study but you must also learn all the technology that is used and how to properly recognize each sleep disorder. The very best way to learn this is to work in a lab. The Tech ! learns how to apply the equipment, gets familiar with the polygraph and looking at the signals and what they mean. This is the worst level because you usually have to prepare all the rooms and set everything else up for the night shift.
Sleep Tech II
Once you have gained an understanding of this job and can demonstrate that you are able to move up, the next step is Sleep Tech II. The lab that employed me compensated with additional pay when you reached this point of your training. This means that you have a very good understanding of the profession and this is where you will stay until you are ready to take the R.PSG.T examination that is required by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
While you are training you will need to demonstrate that you have an excellent understanding of Electroencephalography (EEG), Electrocardiograms (EKG), Electromyograms (EMG), and Electrooculograms (EOG) just to name a few of the procedures you will need to learn. You will learn to recognize and report the different types of disorders.
In addition to this - you also have to learn how to use polygraph equipment. It is overwhelming at first but with lots of effort and practice these things become second nature.
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Registered Polysomnographic Technologist (R.PSG.T)
Taking the R.PSG.T exam and passing it is the goal of every sleep technician. It is administered by the American Board of Sleep Medicine. This test is extremely difficult. It is only offered about every 6 months in various random states around the U.S. It is now $250.00 to take the exam. It requires lots of independent study. I studied for 6 months solid and that was after working in a lab setting for 18 months.
The exam is extremely hard. I know of several people who failed it multiple times. It does not matter how many years you may have been performing sleep studies - you have to study everything to pass this exam. It may ask questions about altitude and sleep. Even though I do not live near the mountains and I am pretty sure I will never go to the mountains to run a sleep study - I had to know how living at high altitude effects sleep and many other things that do not come up in the lab.
The test was designed to test your practical knowledge. One of the questions I remember clearly was:
If you begin your study and realize the ground wire is broken off of the polygraph machine what should you do?
- Don't worry about it and run the study
- Make a note of it in the patient chart and run the study.
- Refuse to run the study
That question threw my friend that took it with me. The correct answer is refuse to run the study. My co-worker said, "I chose, 'just make a note of it'." Well wouldn't that have been a real shocker for your patient! The ground wire is VERY important!
If you pass the exam you receive your certificate and you will have a job that pays a salary of a national average of about $47,000.00 per year. This is an average and there are many ways to specialize in different areas that command more pay. I specialized in repairing equipment and was the special projects coordinator. \
You can work with clinical patients or break into sleep research and be on the cutting edge of the newest science in sleep! Sleep research is really fun and I did like administering the tests for these projects. It can be very stressful as everything is usually on a tight time schedule so if a problem occurs you have to be able to work well under pressure.
Sleep technologists have lots of job security and are in such high demand that labs pay premium prices to hire traveling sleep technologists. These positions are very common now and we used them for a temporary research study that we were involved in. I thought that would be awesome for a tech that didn't have a family. They were most often provided with room and board (a hotel room where I worked) a generous salary and they could choose the locations they wanted to work in.
Sleep tech's work all three shifts of the day. Not all tech's work night shifts. There are plenty of opportunities for day jobs in this field. The night tech's run the sleep studies and typically the day tech's will 'score' them. This means they sift through every single page of the study (each page represents 30 seconds of sleep so a complete record is around 960 pages for eight hours of sleep). The tech will scrutinize each page and mark which stage of sleep the patient was in and any abnormal events.
I much preferred working nights to days because the boss worked days! You make a shift differential for working nights and ours was $4.00 per hour. Scoring was boring! You do have to work night shifts in order to pass the exam. Depending on your experience or which route you use to take the R.PSG.T exam, you have to conduct a certain number of sleep studies to be eligible to take the test.
If you are looking for an exciting career sleep medicine may be the one for you! I have attached a link for many of the sleep labs that exist as well as a more comprehensive list of information regarding the qualifications that must be met to become a sleep technician to a sleep technologist!
- SBC - Fenton - Polysomnography
Sanford Brown Institute
- Essentials of Sleep Technology - American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM)
Guide provides step-by-step instructions on how to obtain an artifact-free study that conforms to published standards.
- Accredited Sleep Technology Education Program