How to Become a Polysomnographer in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for polysomnographers. Get the facts about duties, education requirements, professional licensure and the employment outlook to determine if this is the right field for you.

Career Information At a Glance

Polysomnographers conduct sleep-study tests to identify sleep and breathing disorders in patients. Take a look at the following chart for an overview of how to enter the field.

Degree Required Associate's degree or postsecondary certificate
Education Field of Study Medical laboratory technology
Key Skills Correctly use technology, attention to detail, record keeping, manual dexterity
Licensure or Certification Varies by state; certification often preferred by employers
Job Growth (2012-2022) 30% for all medical and laboratory technicians and technologists*
Median Salary (2015) $49,780 for all registered polysomnographic technologists**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **

What Is a Polysomnographer?

Polysomnographers are allied health professionals who work in sleep laboratories equipped with beds and surveillance monitors. The polysomnographer's aim is to assist individuals who may have sleep disorders or breathing disorders related to sleeping. Their work aids in the diagnosis of conditions such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy, nighttime panic attacks and sleep paralysis. A polysomnographer may perform his or her duties during the daytime or on overnight shifts.

Step 1: Familiarize Yourself with a Polysomnographer's Responsibilities

Polysomnographers first collect their patients' medical histories. They then take vital signs and inform patients about the procedures they're about to undergo. Next, the polysomnographer prepares and calibrates equipment and applies sensors and electrodes to different areas of their patients' bodies, including the legs, chest and scalp. The sensors enable them to track brain waves, eye movements, nose and mouth airflow, muscle movements and heart rate. As the patients slumber, the polysomnographer observes their sleep patterns and takes detailed notes of any unusual occurrences during various sleep stages. The polysomnographer's findings are then presented to a sleep physician, who formulates a diagnosis.

Step 2: Locate an Educational Program

According to the American Association of Sleep Technologists (AAST), if you aspire to become a polysomnographer, you should enroll in an accredited educational training program. Educational programs for the polysomnography profession aren't commonplace. As of 2011, the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) listed only about 33 accredited polysomnographic technologist college programs nationwide. You can obtain either a certificate, diploma or an associate's degree in polysomnographic technology, which can take 1-2 years to complete.

Alternatively, a number of sleep centers across the country have an 80-hour Accredited Sleep Technologist Education Program called A-STEP. The program was developed by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). A self-study polysomnography module is also offered. When you have completed the course, you'll be given a final examination, on which you must score 70% or better. Programs other than A-STEP may also qualify you to sit for the certification examination.

Step 3: Complete Educational Training

Through CAAHEP, you can find accredited polysomnography programs offered by universities and community colleges. They may offer classroom experience as well as night-shift clinical rotations within actual sleep laboratories. As a student of a polysomnography program, you'll study such topics as electrocardiogram (EKG) theory and application, medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, algebra and polysomnography laboratory.

Step 4: Become Certified

In order to become a registered polysomnography technologist, you'll have to successfully complete the Registered Polysomnographic Technologist (RPSGT) examination. The multiple-choice test is administered by the Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists (BRPT). When you pass the test, you'll be awarded the RPSGT credential. Upon graduation from a CAAHEP-accredited education program, you can qualify immediately to take the RPSGT examination. Otherwise, you can combine sufficient work experience or previous healthcare licensing with A-STEP training to qualify to take the certification examination.

Step 5: Begin Your Job Search

After acquiring educational training and credentialing, you can begin your job search. Jobs are commonly available at sleep disorder clinics, but you might also seek employment in a research laboratory. Other opportunities may exist in the offices of doctors and in hospital polysomnography laboratories.

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