What is a Polysomnographic Technologist?
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A Polysomnographic Technologist is commonly known as a Sleep Tech or Sleep Technologist. A Sleep Tech is the trained medical professional that performs the sleep study, usually at night, to help determine if someone has one of the many diagnosable sleep disorders, such as snoring or obstructive sleep apnea. The sleep recording is usually done in a sleep center and may be located in a hospital, office building or even a hotel.
The Role of the Polysomnographic Technologist
Sleep Techs work as members of a health care team to help diagnose and treat sleep disorders.
When a patient is referred to the sleep lab for testing, the Sleep 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.
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 Sleep 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.
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
Sleep 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 four levels of sleep techs:
- Polysomnographic Trainee, who usually require direct supervision by a trained Sleep Technologist while learning the skills
- 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.
- Certified Polysomnographic Technologist (CPSGT) who has demonstrated a strong entry level knowledge to pass the national exam. CPSGT mostly work nights and are generally working toward the RPSGT credential.
- 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 sleep technicians/technologists are members of a national organization, like 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 need for sleep 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.
How to Become a Certified Polysomnographic Technologist (CPSGT)
There are 3 pathways of eligibility for the CPSGT certificate offered by the BRPT and all require a high school diploma or equivalent GED as well as Basic Cardiac Life Support.
Pathway 1: Clinical Experience
- Minimum of 3 months experience as a sleep trainee or sleep technician
- Completion of STAR-designated self study program, such as the Atlanta School’s Online Foundation of Sleep Technology or the AASM’s A-STEP Self Study Modules
- Proof of completion of secondary education or equiv.
Pathway 2: CAAHEP/CoARC Student Graduate
Pathway 3: Focused Training
- Completion of STAR-designated Focused, or a combination of self study and Focused 2 education, such as First Sleep School’s Polysomnography Education Program or equivalent STAR-designated Focused 2 program (Note: this pathway provides the opportunity for Certification without any actual work experience.)
- Proof of completion of secondary education or equiv.
Now that I am a CPSGT, how to I become a RPSGT?
RPSGT Pathway #4
- Obtain 819 hours of clinical experience that includes on-site polysomnography duties performed as direct patient recording and/or scoring.
- Complete a STAR designated Focused education program OR both a STAR designated Self-Study education program AND a STAR designated Focused 2 program within a 3 year period prior to taking the RPSGT exam.Note: By taking First Sleep School’s Polysomnography Education Program or equivalent program, you would have met this Focused 2 requirement and to take the CPSGT exam you had to have already completed the Self-Study program so this is already done.