Careers in Sleep Medicine: Specialties, Credentials & Pathways
The field of sleep medicine is growing rapidly. There's a greater need for sleep medicine professionals today due to a growing public awareness of sleep disorders and their health consequences as well as new advancements in sleep technology and medicine. There are careers in sleep medicine you may consider your perfect career choice.
Most sleep medicine professionals will tell you that having the ability to work directly with their patients is a very rewarding part of their careers. You can help patients who are suffering from sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA,) and provide them with treatment that gives them instant relief from their symptoms. Just think, because of you, patients with sleep disorders can now get a full night’s restful sleep that they haven’t been able to do for years.
Download our free webinar to learn how to successfully navigate your Sleep Technologist career.
Few fields offer patients the chance to experience vast improvement in a very short time; sleep medicine is one of these fields. It’s a rewarding, fulfilling, and enjoyable career.
A career in the sleep medicine field may be perfect for you if you:
- Enjoy working with patients and providing them the proper care they need.
- Have a strong work ethic.
- Thrive on learning new and exciting procedures.
- Have the ability to adapt to an array of working hours.
If you have these qualities, a sleep medicine career may be the path you're looking for.
To get started in a career as a registered sleep technologist, you must obtain credentials from the Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists (BRPT), the American Board of Sleep Medicine (ABSM) or a National Board for Respiratory Care add-on credential.
Although it's recommended that you get a formal education to become a sleep technologist, many technologists began their career studying for their credentials while working at a sleep clinic. Once you obtain your credentials, every five years you need to either retake your RST/RPSGT exam or complete 50 continuing education credits (CECs) to maintain your credentials. You can learn more about earning CECs here.
Sleep Medicine Career Paths
Below are four careers in sleep medicine you may wish to explore in the sleep medicine field.
As a sleep technician, you perform extensive sleep tests and analysis under the supervision of the medical director or sleep technologist, associated interventions. You work with sleep study equipment that collects data as patients sleep. You also provide follow up instructions and care to patients, in addition to being involved in sleep medicine education. As a sleep technician, you'd be able to provide supervision to a sleep trainee.
As a sleep technologist, the medical doctor provides general oversight while you're working, and you will be providing the extensive evaluation of sleep disorders and treatment. Some examples would include:
- Home and in-center sleep apnea testing
- Therapeutic and diagnostic interventions
- Direct patient education
- Comprehensive patient care
Although many people associate sleep technologist careers with working night hours strictly, there are opportunities available DURING daytime hours. While you may start your career working nights, there are other studies like maintenance of wakefulness tests (MWTs) and multiple sleep latency tests (MSLTs) that are performed in the daytime, along with scoring and patient care opportunities.
Sleep Health Educator
As a sleep health educator, you work under the medical director's general supervision to provide extensive evaluation, treatment and education of sleep disorders, including home and in-center sleep apnea testing, therapeutic and diagnostic interventions, direct patient education and comprehensive patient care.
Along with expertise in all sleep technology-related competencies, you also take part in compliance management, clinical patient education, home therapy, and therapeutic, evaluation, and diagnostic testing. You'll need to understand all the processes of multifaceted disease that affect both wakefulness and sleep in order to educate and manage patients.
Sleep health educators are credentialed in sleep technology as well as other allied health careers that have the relevant training in managing patients with sleep disorders. You will interact professionally with doctors and other health care providers and would be able to supervise other sleep center staff.
Sleep Center Manager
As a sleep center director/manager, you work under the medical director's general supervision to manage sleep program operations and ensure patients with sleep disorders receive appropriate evaluation and treatment. You would oversee operations related to home and in-center sleep apnea testing, therapeutic, and diagnostic interventions, direct patient education and extensive patient care. Sleep center managers are credentialed in sleep technology and provide supervision of other sleep center staff.
As mentioned earlier, the sleep medicine field is growing exponentially due to new advances in medicine and technology and the increase of public awareness of the negative consequences of sleep disorders. Because of this, there are more people who are interested and qualified in this field studying to meet requirements and obtain their credentials needed to become a registered sleep technologist.
Registered Polysomnographic Technologist (RPSGT)
The Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists (BRPT) administers the RPSGT and Certified Polysomnographic Technician (CPSGT) credentials. The CPSGT is a time limited credential for those preparing to meet requirements to apply for the RPSGT credential. The RPSGT examination measures the practitioner's competence in performing polysomnography, and the therapeutic interventions associated with polysomnography.
Credentialing pathways will evolve to meet more stringent credentialing eligibility requirements in sleep technology as the profession evolves. For instance, in the future, the entry level for a sleep technologist will require an Associate's Degree at minimum for eligibility to gain credentials.
Registered Sleep Technologist (RST)
The registered sleep technologist performs the same job as the registered polysomnographic technologist (RPSGT) but their distinct requirements and sleep credentials for qualifying for the credentialing exam are different.
The American Board of Sleep Medicine (ABSM) manages the credentialing exam of the RST which determines the relevant practice of sleep technology and daily professional responsibilities in a sleep center environment.
The RST is a credential that's education-based and measures learning achieved through Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC) education programs.
Continuing Education Credits (CECs)
Once you’re certified as a sleep technologist, to provide the highest-quality care for your patients and work with them to develop and strengthen their self-management sleep skills, you'll want to hone your skills and continue your education. Continuing education credits (CECs) motivate you to do this.
Leading certification organizations provide CECs to award sleep technologists when they complete certain educational activities.
Why Do You Need CECs?
All sleep professionals need to continue their education for sleep center licensing and accreditation, including RSTs and RPSGTs.
Your certification in sleep technology lasts for five years. You will need to get re-certified after that by either retaking and passing your exam or earning and accumulating 50 CECs over five years. Most accrediting organizations will suggest you earn CECs as your best option. This enables you to learn and develop important skills at your own pace while accruing credits. You'll also stay updated on new developments and changes in the sleep profession.
Easy Ways to Get Your Continuing Education Credits
There are a number of ways to get your CECs.
Become a member of an organization. Membership organizations go all out to ensure you're current on all discounted rates for different offerings and all CEC opportunities. They help you keep track of all CECs you've earned so you always know how many you have and need. By becoming a member of the American Association of Sleep Technologists (AAST), you get the added benefit of gaining access to up to 32 CECs each year for free.
Attend conferences, events, meetings, and workshops. Each year, you have the opportunity to participate in a variety of gatherings like these. The goal of these gatherings is to provide you with information and news related to sleep technology and medicine. Many organizations at the state, regional, national, and local level host gatherings like this count towards your CECs. Accrediting organizations pre-approve most of these events and already set a certain number of CECs you can earn by attending.
Subscribe to articles and journals. Certain magazines provide CECs, like the AAST's quarterly A2Zzz publication, for instance. Members of AAST can earn 2 CECs for each issue they read. This provides you with an easy way of earning free CECs (8 per year). You simply read the publications and take a short quiz afterward.
Complete learning modules, case studies, and other online training. AAST and other organizations provide outstanding case studies and online learning modules for their members that provide pre-approved CECs.
- The sleep technologist profession is an attractive and growing career choice
- To get started in a career as a sleep technologist, you need education and training to meet credentialing requirements
- There are a number of careers in sleep medicine available to you
- Every 5 years you need to re-certify either by taking your exam or earning 50 CECs
- You have plenty of opportunities to earn free CECs
To learn more about the Sleep Technologist profession and how you can get started, download our "Managing Your Sleep Technologist Career" webinar to successfully navigate your sleep medicine career.