The life of a sleep technologist is far from boring. Are you one of the many that think we just sit there all night watching you sleep? Think again. In this article, I define what a Sleep Technologist is and does.
What is a Sleep Technologist?
I can’t speak for all Sleep Technologists, but when I first heard of this field of study, I was immediately interested. What’s so fascinating about staying up all night watching people sleep, you ask? I have no idea, I don’t do that. Although, it’s amazing how many people think I do.
Let’s clear this misconception up a bit shall we? But before I go into what a Sleep Technologist does, let’s define what one is.
First of all, not just anyone can be a Sleep Technologist. And I don’t think everyone would want to be one! For one thing, we’re up at night and sleep during the day. Also, many of us work alone and spend hours at a computer. Actually, we’re usually working 2 computers at the same time because we routinely test 2 patients each night.
But really, I enjoy working by myself; especially at night when it’s nice and quiet. And by quiet I don’t mean sitting there twiddling my thumbs…that would drive me crazy!
No, a quiet night just means a nice pace where I’m able to keep up with everything. And because not everyone’s the same, what works for one person might not work for someone else. So it’s good to keep ahead of things in case something unexpected happens. Thus, good time management, with an eye for detail, is a must.
And while you’d think it would get boring doing the same thing every night, it’s not at all. That’s because, even though I have the same routine every night, I deal with different people. And it’s the people that make my career most interesting.
Not that everything else isn’t interesting. As one of my patients put it “You have a really cool job!” And while that may be true, they were wrong about one thing. It’s not just a job. I’m helping people live a longer, more enriching life. It’s what I’ve become.
But just what does a Sleep Technologist do?
What Does a Sleep Technologist do?
One of the more frequent comments I get is ‘It must be boring watching people sleep.’ Another question people ask is ‘Did you have to go to school for this?’ It’s tempting to answer that question with, ‘No, I’m smart enough to have figured this out all by myself’. But I don’t. ’cause I’m not.
Of course, people who say such things just don’t understand the complexities of this position. And for the record, we don’t watch you sleep. That would be a silly, boring and quite useless job, no? However, after I explain what I do, the question usually becomes “How much schooling did it take you to learn all this?”
With that, let’s take a look at some of the things that take place during your sleep study.
Let’s begin with the hookup. There’re a lot of wires attached to you. These sensors measure leg movement, breathing, oxygen levels, heart rate, and brainwaves; as well as muscle tension, eye movement, and snoring. And while I’m hooking you up to all these sensors, I like to explain what I’m doing as I go. I also explain what Obstructive Sleep Apnea, or OSA, is. And this naturally leads to a brief discussion of CPAP.
After you’re hooked up, I have you try on different CPAP masks, just in case I decide to start you on treatment. This not only gets you accustomed to the mask but also helps you relax, as you now know what to expect. Then, during your sleep study, I need to determine if you need CPAP or not. And if I start you on treatment, when to adjust pressure to get you breathing well.
Once I have your study up and running, you’re reduced to a bunch of crisp clear squiggly lines on my computer monitor. All these lines show me what your version of sleep looks like. At that point, I settle into my chair and began the process of helping you live a longer more enriching life…Literally.
But in order to do this, I need to be knowledgeable about a few things.
A Sleep Technologist Does Know Some Stuff
A Sleep Technologist wears many hats. And once we pass a board exam, our ‘official’ title is Registered Polysomnographic Technologist or RPSGT.
Among the many skills we possess are:
♦ Basic EKG interpretation One of the things I record is your heart rate and rhythm. It’s not a full EKG but still gives me a heads up if something isn’t right, that is as long as I know what I’m looking at. Additionally, when I’m at a lab in a hospital, I can always call the charge nurse and get a second opinion on anything questionable.
♦Charting. Accurate assessment of your condition. Knowing what’s significant and what’s not. And with proper spelling and medical terminology (so I don’t look dumb to the Doctor)
♦ Computer skills.
♦ Medical knowledge. Diseases, medicines, medical terminology. I need to know how different diseases affect sleep. Also, medications that are prescribed for these diseases have their own effects on the sleep-wake cycle. All these variables not only affect your sleep but also influence how you respond to CPAP.
♦ Pattern Recognition-When I look at the computer monitor, all I see are a bunch of squiggly lines. But each squiggle means something. And I need to be able to determine whether a squiggle is significant or not. By morning, I’ll have around 900 pages of data recorded on you, so I really need to know what I’m looking at. Therefore, I’m the eyes and ears of the Doctor.
♦ People skills-The hook up process is 1 on 1 time. Not only is that the time to gather information on your medical history. It’s also the time to help you relax and prepare for the night. Interpersonal skills are very important. Especially at this time.
♦ Troubleshooting both equipment and computer. Although I do have access to an on-call person, I need to be able to handle problems as best I can. Of course, experience alone helps there.
We also attend monthly classes that keep us up to speed on the ever-evolving fields of sleep.
I hope this rather brief description of what a Sleep Technologist is and does helps you better understand this complex and highly technical field.
I’m a Sleep Technologist and I love what I do. Helping people live a longer more enriching life is awesome!!
Till next time…Blessings.