Polysomnographic technologists monitor and evaluate peoples’ sleep patterns using data from sleep studies. These studies, called polysomnographies, are usually carried out in clinical settings such as hospitals or sleep centers. People with sleeping problems such as insomnia, snoring, or night terrors may attend a sleep center for an assessment. Upon a full evaluation of the data gathered, the polysomnographic technologist and physician overseeing the study will discuss diagnosis and treatment as appropriate.
Patients usually fill out a form or are interviewed prior to attending a sleep center. This information helps the sleep physician and polysomnographic technologist choose the most appropriate type of sleep study. When the patient arrives, the polysomnographic technologist is responsible for informing the patient about what to expect during his or her visit to the department or center. The technologist or an assistant then prepares the patient for monitored sleep.
Sleep studies monitor several functions that are essential to healthy sleep, including the activity in the brain, heart, eyes, and muscles. Sensors are usually attached to the patient’s face, scalp, and sometimes other parts of the body. The patient is then left alone to try to sleep. The data from the sensors are sent to the technologist’s computer in a separate room. He or she watches the patient sleep via cameras, taking notes on sleep occurrences such as snoring or movement.
Once the sleep study is complete, a polysomnographic technologist must assess the computer data and notes taken. He or she then analyzes the data and works with a physician so an appropriate diagnosis and treatment plan can be developed. The patient may return to the clinic at a later date, where the polysomnographic technologist can give support and talk him or her through the possible treatment options.
Working with patients and health professionals requires good communication skills. Polysomnographic technologists also need to have an eye for detail, as inaccuracies in the computer data can result in an incorrect diagnosis. Sleep studies often take place at night, and so it is important the polysomnographic technologist is comfortable with working unsociable hours.
The education required to become a polysomnographic technologist varies depending on location. In the US, there are various routes into the field, though an associate degree in polysomnography or a related area is often preferred by employers. Those who have completed suitable courses or clinical training can take an exam to become recognized by the Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists (BRPT). More information is available from the American Association of Sleep Technologists.