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By: Brendan Duffy on July 27th, 2015

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Technologist Blues: 8 Steps to Managing Burnout On The Night Shift



What do you do when burnout strikes you on your night shift?

Jane is working her third 12 hour shift in a row and she is definitely feeling less than energetic. She has a hectic schedule after she gets off work.  She needs to drop off the kids at school and then get the car over to the mechanic. Then she can get some sleep…

Joe has been in the same job for 6 years and often times at 2 a.m. or so, he wonders what else he could do to renew his energy.  He feels his work is the same grind night after night. His management team never asks for his thoughts or opinions on policies or sleep center business. He has found it hard to work up the same passion for running studies as he had when he first started working as a sleep technologist.

Sam is concerned his weight is increasing as he eats snacks during his night shift that he knows are really not a good choice. But in a sleep deprived fog, he continues to live for today while jeopardizing tomorrow’s health.

For many that work the so called “grave yard shift “for a number of years, burnout may slowly develop. 

According to the definition found here,

Burnout strikes employees when they have exhausted their physical or emotional strength.  This usually occurs as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.  Sometimes the cause is the work environment.  Stressful jobs, lack of support and resources, and tight deadlines can all contribute to burnout.

The mere nature of the job can exhaust a sleep technologist’s physical and emotional strength.  The hours wear you down physically and the sleep deprivation can deflate your emotional status. It takes careful planning to manage your career and handle other family and social responsibilities successfully.

So let’s look at some causes for night shift sleep technologist burnout.  We will offer some tips to rekindle the spark in the great technologists that need a change in their career navigation before they slam into the rocks of Burnout Island. (But remember there are also great reasons why becoming a sleep technologist pays off in the end.)


A lot of the stress is from the work environment. If you are constantly criticized but seldom hear from your managers or physicians when you do something well, it can beat you down mentally. Managers and physicians need to appreciate the difficult job that their night shift staff does. It is not just “watching people sleep’ as some folks think!

This is a career that requires vast technical skills as well as solid social skills. It requires the ability to coach the patients through titrations. It necessitates a good working knowledge of cardiac and respiratory medicine.Each night a technologist does not know what kind of patient they will encounter; friendly, uncooperative, etc.

Scheduling against your body clock

Another stressor is a schedule that causes problems with your physical health or family and social life. The overnight shift can be a real struggle especially for parents of young children. School, summer camps, activities, these all require constant attention and scheduling. Juggling these responsibilities with a night shift work schedule can be very daunting.

In our Sleep Center, We work with the staff to create schedules that optimize their preferred time with family and friends as requested. This allows them to manage their own healthy workload. We do not just throw schedules out there and tell the team to live with it!  If the schedule works well with their family, the staff will be more energetic and alert. They are my friends as well as a great bunch of sleep technologists. It doesn’t mean that they always get an ideal schedule but it does mean we do try to minimize any disruptive schedules and consider all requests.

Many times stress is caused because of a disconnect between the day staff and the night staff. It is important to make sure that communications are ongoing and the management is available and responsive to questions and suggestions from the night shift staff.  I have actually heard of places where the night technologists have never met the sleep physician! That to me seems absurd!

Regular staff meetings go a long way towards reducing stress if problems are discussed and solutions are developed together; with night sift staff as part of the team.

Here are 8 steps to managing burnout on the night shift for sleep technologists and managers.

Step 1: Change of Routine

Sometimes a change of routine such as working a few day shifts and scoring studies is a welcome relief from the usual night routine. We do this also when we have a low census rather than call off the tech at the last minute. They come in the following morning and help the lead technologist score.  This unifies them with the day staff and encourages communication.

Step 2: People You Work With

Try and surround yourself with positive people when possible.  The constant complainer can drag you down and crush your flame if it is not eliminated; especially if you are already short of sufficient sleep.  Don’t let a negative person steal your passion! Inform the complainer that perhaps they should address their concerns to the manager-not you!

Step 3: Managers Appreciation of Sleep Technologists

On occasion, I will walk to the tech room after my workday and thank the staff, ask if all is going alright, and leave a little cash to cover their dinner!  They enjoy the thank you and friendly banter just as much as the free grub! A little courtesy goes a long way! Sleep technologists should be valued! Don’t wait for AAST Sleep Tech Appreciation Week to tell folks they are awesome!

Step 4: Multitasking with Limits

In our sleep center we do not require folks to score on the fly but most do score; either before their patients arrive, or by staging the collection to assist the day lead technologist. I have seen required scoring on strict deadlines to be very stressful for some technologists. They are intent on collecting a perfect record and do not want to be distracted with scoring for several minutes as airflows or leads go haywire. If you are a manager, it would benefit you to try and remember this. You can’t criticize for a less than stellar collection if the technologists are mandated by you to be distracted. On the other hand, some technologists enjoy scoring on the fly and do not see it as added pressure.  Get to know your staff!

Step 5: New Opportunitities Within the Sleep Field

All technologists have untapped talents that they need to awaken.  Their endless capabilities have become dormant as their passion and fire for sleep medicine has dwindled. I would ask you to look beyond the current task of collecting overnight sleep studies.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?  What else can you offer to the field? 

Some would be well served to work as a mentor for the newer technologists.

Others might consider joining a sleep organization or sleep society.  It is a great way to meet other local and nationally located sleep technologists. This is a great way to gain more information about your field. And often becoming involved or attending a meeting sparks a renewed commitment to your career. If you do a decent job working on the committee you volunteer with, perhaps it will open doors to other opportunities such as other jobs, public speaking opportunities, or writing on sleep or technologist topics. (This is how I arrived at this blog!)

Step 6: Practice What You Preach

Take the time to look in the mirror. Promise to take care of yourself. Vow to look forward with a renewed commitment!   Get your sleep as needed. Try and eat some healthy snacks. Don’t overdo the overtime hours at the expense of your health and safety.  Pamper yourself!

Step 7: Daytime Opportunities

As we move towards more home sleep apnea testing, there will be more daytime opportunities for those that are in the right place, have the right skills, and have a solid attitude. There may come a time where it is best to move from the night shift to the day shift for your personal or career growth.  Make sure you keep your skills current and take the opportunity to learn new things!

Step 8: Diversify

Take some courses!  Start a hobby. Learn something new!  There also are additional opportunities that include educating about sleep issues in your community!  Be that resource person!

I read a quote on Amazon.com while writing this that sums it up nicely: “There will be many chapters in your life. Don’t get lost in the one you are in now”.

The role of the sleep technologist is also changing and is opening new doors to sleep technologists. There has never been a better time for different roles of the sleep technolgoists and the AAST is being proactive as evident by the series of meetings being offered.

Want to learn more about how to help yourself and your patients who are exhibiting sleep burnout? Register for the AAST Fall Course in Branson this year!

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