Top 5 Reasons to Become a Sleep Technologist
Sleep medicine is a fascinating and rapidly expanding field of expertise. New advances in sleep medicine, technology, and a growing public awareness into the health consequences of sleep disorders, have led to an increasing need for qualified sleep technologists.
If you have an interest in sleep medicine, a strong work ethic, enjoy direct patient care, have an ability to adapt to a variety of working hours, and a penchant for learning new and exciting procedures, a career as a sleep technologist may be the right path for you.I asked a number of current sleep technologists from both The Alaska Sleep Clinic and Capital Health Center for Sleep Medicine a few questions about their line of work, and asked them to describe why they enjoy their particular line of work and to give advice to prospective sleep technologists.
Sleep medicine is a fascinating area of study
Rita Brooks, Director of Diagnostic Services at Capital Health System, had an early fascination with sleep medicine while the field was still in its infancy. Having heard about early polysomnogram tests and a desire to help her suffering mother, Brooks took it upon herself to learn sleep medicine. She says:
I was an EEG technologist in the early 1980's when my father told me my mother did not breathe when she slept at night. I read up on how to do a polysomnogram, borrowed an oximeter from the [operating room], and did my first sleep study on an old Grass machine. It was a very abnormal PSG. I asked many physicians in the hospital if anyone knew how to read a sleep study. Dr. Frank had a sleep fellowship as part of her pulmonary training and was very interested. We started the sleep center at my hospital that year with me working days in EEG, going home to sleep 4-5 hours, then coming back to work nights once a week. We did 10 sleep studies the first year.
Meridith Kearse, RPSGT for The Alaska Sleep Clinic, said, "I became a sleep tech because I have always been fascinated with the brain and its many intricacies."
Others transferred from fields they believed to be stagnant to join a field that had more opportunities for learning and advancement. Says Sue Kochis, RPSGT for Capital Health Center for Sleep Medicine:
I became a sleep tech for change. I was in neuro for 20 years and it was becoming stagnant. Many of the tests I was performing were not really necessary, and I started to doubt healthcare and my role. At the time, the lab I worked in shared space with the sleep center. I always thought that sleep was an interesting field and wanted to learn more. I began reading about sleep apnea and when a position was available I was allowed the opportunity to come in one night and observe. I knew right then and there that I would like to apply for a sleep tech position.
You enjoy quality patient care
Nearly all sleep technologists agree that one of the most rewarding parts of the job is their direct work with patients. When dealing with patients suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, treatment for the disorder can sometimes offer instant relief from symptoms, and many patients experience a full night's sleep for the first time in years. Sleep medicine is one of the few fields where patients can show a vast improvement in a short time line, and it is one of the most enjoyable aspects of working as a technologist.
Ashley Vedrode, RPSGT for The Alaska Sleep Clinic, says that some patients come in because their spouse made them and don't even realize how severe their problems are until after they have the study. "The majority of my patients do not even know they feel bad," she says, "They think their sleep troubles are 'just how it is.'" She further jokes, "I'm not a neurosurgeon or anything, but I improve quality of life for people."
Vedrode's sentiment rings true with many other technologists like David Bigelow, who says the best part of being a sleep technologist is "being able to directly improve the quality of a person's sleep and life."
Others enjoyed the fact that they work with fewer patients a day than other fields and are therefore able to build stronger relationships with them. "The best part was becoming involved not only with the diagnostic aspect, but to actually help apnea patients by controlling their breathing with CPAP," says Sue Kochis, "Working overnight with one patient enabled me to establish a rapport with my patients as opposed to the neurodiagnostic studies where you see several patients all day."
There are multiple ways to break into the field
To become a registered polysomnographic sleep technologist one must get credentialing from the American Board of Sleep Medicine (ABSM), The Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists (BRPT), or the National Board for Respiratory Care.
While formal education is generally recommended for becoming a sleep technologist, many technologists got their start working at a sleep clinic while studying for their credentials. After credentials are received sleep technologists must complete 50 continued education credits (CECs) every 5 years to maintain credentials or retake the RPSGT/RST examination. To learn more about earning CECs click here.
Some sleep technologists even got their start at an early age. Vedrode states:
I started working in sleep labs at around age 12 doing filing, insurance verification, and scheduling. By 17 I was doing direct patient care. At 18 I had to quit working in childcare to take on additional responsibilities and travel to remote labs. I became registered at 21.
Kiera Jablonski admits that much of her education was formal through ASTEP, but she "learned the most on the job," and after she passed her examination the clinic she worked at hired her on the spot.
A variety of shifts and job opportunities
While most people associated sleep technologists with working strictly at night while patients sleep, there are actually many positions available to technologists on a variety of shifts.
Many sleep technologists will most likely begin their careers working nights, which is great for "night owls." However, other studies such as multiple sleep latency tests (MSLTs) and maintenance of wakefulness tests (MWTs) need to be performed during the day. There is also a need for DME equipment setups, patient scheduling, and sleep test scoring that creates a demand for sleep technologists to work during the days.
Some people are just built for the night shift, and being an overnight sleep technologist is great for those types of people. "I have no problem working at night," Kearse says, "I actually enjoy it. I have always been a night owl."
Bigelow has a similar view on working nights, "I don't really have any issues, I can change sleep schedules without any trouble."
The night shift isn't for everybody
While some technologists revel in working night shifts, others have a hard time adjusting to it. Some even begin to develop the same sleep disorders they are helping others prevent. "I have god-awful insomnia," states Vedrode, "It is not unusual for me to go several days without any significant sleep."
George Evans, manager at Capital Health Center for Sleep Medicine, works days now but reflects that during his time on night shift he "slept less and was tired often."
Fortunately for sleep technologists, as the industry grows and changes there is more demand for techs to work day shifts. When Kochis made the change to days after 7 1/2 years of working nights she discovered all new challenges to her job. "Once again, I had to learn new skills as the role of the day techs expanded into more patient care."
Even sleep techs need to make sleep a priority
The best way for sleep techs to manage the odd hours they keep is to practice good sleep hygiene and give their sleep precedence in their lives.
"When I worked nights, I packed healthy food, and made sleep a priority the day after (a sleep study)," says Kochis, "I used ear plugs and blinders to block out light and outside noises."
It's not just sleep that some technologists find difficult when working nights, it's that most businesses are operating during their sleep hours. "The world functions during the day," says Vedrode who lives in Alaska, "I try to do a lot of business on the east coast because of the time difference."
Advice for techs interested in a career in sleep medicine
"Plan to learn many aspects of sleep technology as the role of the sleep technologist is rapidly expanding and changing," says Brooks, "Get some formal education–it will take you far!"
"Study hard," says Evans, "Know the fundamentals well."
"Remain open to any and all duties, because you don't have to limit yourself to performing sleep studies at night," suggests Kochis, "There is so much more to being a sleep technologist, as the roles are changing and have become more patient care oriented."
"Getting a position at an accredited lab is crucial in the learning aspect," says Jablonski.
If you're interested in sleep medicine and want to become a sleep technologist, or are still testing the waters to see if it's right for you, check out the American Association of Sleep Technologist's (AAST) educational resources page for more information.