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. Schools offering Allied Health degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does A Polysomnographer Do?

Polysomnographers perform studies of people while they sleep and analyze the data, with a focus on identifying sleep disorders or breathing issues that patients experience while sleeping. They may be involved in diagnosing things like sleep apnea. Prior to conducting the study, they may need to discuss the testing process with patients; afterward, they may discuss the results with other medical professionals as well as with patients. They use specialized medical equipment for their tests and need computer skills to process results. As part of their duties, they may also be responsible for equipment maintenance.

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 (2014-2024) 16% for all medical and laboratory technicians and technologists*
Median Salary (2015) $51,090 for all registered polysomnographic technologists**

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

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 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 2017, the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) listed only about 38 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.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Chemical technicians also work on research studies, though their focus is on testing chemical processes and production rather than healthcare. These technicians also need an associate's degree. If working with specialized types of medical equipment is one of the appeals of polysomnography, individuals might look into becoming radiologic technologists. These technologists, who also need an associate's degree, operate things like x ray machines and MRI scanners for diagnostic imaging purposes.

Those interested in a healthcare career involving a very different type of patient might want to consider veterinary technology. Veterinary technicians assist veterinarians in the care, diagnosis and treatment of animals. They may be involved in performing tests that are used to diagnose illnesses, and they need an associate's degree.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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