Polysomnographic Technologists: Job Overview, Salary, and Education Requirements
A sleep technologist, or polysomnographic technologist, works as part of an interdisciplinary team to diagnose and treat sleep disorders. It's a rewarding career that enables you to work directly with patients to improve their quality of sleep and well-being.
Sleep disorders can result in lowered productivity and increased risk of accidents. If left untreated, they can lead to health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, 50 to 70 million Americans have sleep disorders.
The American Association of Sleep Technologists (AAST) notes that sleep medicine is a rapidly growing field with strong demand for qualified registered sleep technologists.
What Does A Sleep Technologist Do?
A polysomnographic technologist performs a variety of tests and studies to determine why a patient's sleep is disrupted. This involves working with a physician in clinical assessment of patients and diagnosis of disorders such as sleep apnea, chronic insomnia, narcolepsy, circadian rhythm sleep disorder, REM behavior disorder and restless leg syndrome.
A sleep technologist's job includes:
- Preparing patients for tests and attaching electrodes and other monitoring devices
- Tracking data such as heart rate, breathing, brain waves, oxygen levels, muscle movement and sleep/wake cycles
- Evaluating data and noting abnormalities
- Preparing analyses of the results for the physician
Once there's a diagnosis, the technologist provides the patient with information about therapeutic interventions. This includes technical guidance for equipment that may be required for treatment, such as the CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine for sleep apnea.
Polysomnographic technologists work in sleep clinics, hospitals, medical centers, and clinical or industrial research labs.
Salary For Sleep Technologist Jobs
While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not collect data for polysomnographic technologists, in 2017, the median earnings in the general category of Health Technologists and Technicians, All Other, was $46,690. The mean hourly rate was $22.45.
The AAST conducted a salary and benefits survey of sleep technologists in 2016. It found that the starting salary for student and trainees averaged $18.84 per hour, with increases of up to 35% as careers progress. Technologists with credentials generally receive up to 17% more compensation than those without certification. And since travel allied health professionals tend to make more, sleep technologists that take short-term assignments can make up to $1,550 a week total, or around $38.75 an hour.
How To Become A Polysomnographic Technologist
Skills for this career are acquired through a combination of education, training and certification. Respiratory care professionals who already have credentials in their field can pursue a specialization in sleep disorders.
Some states require that sleep technologists be licensed and/or certified. Before choosing a pathway, consult with your state medical board and the appropriate certification body regarding eligibility and requirements.
There are several ways for polysomnographic technologists to learn the skills for the job.
While accredited and non-accredited programs are available, the AAST notes that education levels of technologists in this field are increasing. Advanced degrees help candidates to stand out and offer the highest earning opportunities. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs suggests a two-year associate degree program for those pursuing this field.
Some technologists combine on-the-job training with self-directed studies. These alternative education programs are approved for exam eligibility by the Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists and are designated through the Sleep Technology Approved Resource (STAR) Program.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine delivers the Accredited Sleep Technologist Education Program (A-STEP). It offers two pathways, including an 80-hour course for those who don't have sleep lab experience and self-study modules for those with work experience.
Polysomnographic technologists can earn credentials to demonstrate appropriate knowledge and competencies required to work in the field.
There are three credentials available:
- The Registered Polysomnographic Technologist (RPSGT) credential is recognized internationally and is the highest level of certification in the field. It's administered by the Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists.
- The Registered Sleep Technologist (RST) certification demonstrates minimum competencies required to perform the job. This credential is administered by the American Board of Sleep Medicine.
- The Sleep Disorders Specialty (SDS) credential is for respiratory therapists who specialize in diagnosing and treating sleep disorders. This credential is administered by the National Board for Respiratory Care.
Each certifying body has different eligibility for writing exams.
Sleep technologists provide one-on-one care to test, diagnose and manage sleep disorders, making a significance difference in a patient's overall health. If you're interested in polysomnographic technologist careers, get started here and explore current openings across the country.