A sleep technician is a trained clinical sleep study expert who works directly with patients and operates diagnostic testing equipment. He or she helps psychologists and medical doctors interpret study results and determine if patients suffer from various types of disorders, such as narcolepsy and sleep apnea. A professional may also be responsible for administrative duties such as setting appointments and ordering new supplies. Most technicians are employed by certified polysomnography centers and research universities.
Polysomnography centers utilize a number of different sophisticated tools and techniques to monitor brain activity, eye movement, and vital signs while patients sleep. It is the responsibility of a sleep technician to make sure equipment is kept in proper working order at all times. While preparing for a study, a technician checks and calibrates electrodes, polysomnography machines, remote controls, and computer readouts. If something is not working correctly, he or she may perform basic repairs or inform directors of the problem.
When meeting with a new patient, a sleep technician provides a basic overview of the study to be performed. He or she conducts an interview and records information about the patient's age, health condition, medications, and past sleep troubles. The technician can then attach electrodes and make sure the patient is ready for testing to begin. During the exam while the person is sleeping, the technician constantly monitors computer data and makes notes.
After a test, the sleep technician prints out results and fills out the necessary paperwork so the patient can leave. He or she scans data to make sure it is accurate with expected results and presents findings to the supervising sleep director. Many technicians are experienced enough to interpret results accurately, and directors may grant them the responsibility of completing basic studies independently.
The requirements to become a sleep technician vary between different regions and employers. In the United States, most sleep centers require applicants to complete year-long accredited polysomnography training programs at community colleges or specialized training facilities. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and several comparable organizations worldwide provide certification for students who complete programs and pass written exams. A new sleep technician can expect to spend at least six months in an on-the-job training course that involves shadowing experienced workers and performing basic tasks.
With ongoing experience, a successful sleep technician may be able to become a technologist or sleep director. In an advanced position, a worker primarily engages in the interpretation of study results and research on new techniques and equipment. Some experienced professionals become instructors at polysomnography schools or pursue clinical psychology jobs in different settings.