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Polysomnography monitors sleep stages and cycles. A polysomnographist – also called a polysomnography technologist or technician -- works under the supervision of a clinical director (often a doctor) and uses polysomnography to evaluate and treat sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea and narcolepsy. According to the Mayo Clinic, polysomnographists measure brain waves, eye movement, heart rate, breathing, body position, blood-oxygen level, limb movement and snoring during patients' sleep. They work with patients of all ages at sleep clinics, hospitals and even hotels.
The American Association of Sleep Technologists recommends that polysomnographists complete an accredited training program, but that currently is not required because few such programs exist. Polysomnographists therefore should demonstrate competency, be certified by the Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists and comply with the board's standards of conduct. They must comply with laws, regulations and guidelines regarding safety and infection control and maintain current CPR or Basic Cardiac Life Support certification.
Polysomnographists must have working knowledge of the effects of medicine on sleep and physiology; working knowledge of the pathophysiology and behavior changes affected by sleep disorders; and an understanding of sleep-induced changes in the physiology of the body's many systems. They monitor sleep during the night and day, and they record observations using specialized diagnostic tools. They must know how to respond to violent or otherwise dangerous sleep behaviors, such as sleep walking, and perform cognitive testing during seizures.
Polysomnographists must be proficient in the use of many specialized diagnostic instruments, including an electroencephalogram (EEG), electrooculogram (EOG), electromyogram (EMG) and electrocardiogram (ECG). They calibrate and adjust instruments prior to studies. They attach sensors to a patient's scalp, face, legs and body with glue or tape before studies, and they remove them after the study. They must know how to administer oxygen and use other emergency equipment if a need for it arises during the study.
Polysomnographists communicate with several parties involved in the sleep study. They greet patients upon arrival at the study location, address questions and concerns, explain intervention procedures that might take place and ultimately educate patients about their sleep habits. They also keep in touch with family members and physicians overseeing the studies. In addition to oral communication, sleep technologists maintain written and electronic logs and note significant developments during the study. They interpret study results for the supervising physicians.
Working as a sleep technologist requires the ability to stand frequently, walk, stoop, crouch, kneel and sometimes crawl. Polysomnographists also regularly lift or move up to 25 pounds, and occasionally more. However, accommodations can be made for individuals with disabilities to perform the essential sleep-study functions.
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Nicole Kauffman has been writing professionally since 2000, beginning her career as a newspaper reporter with the "Vero Beach Press Journal." Her work has appeared in the "Indianapolis Star," "IU Music," "Research and Creative Activity" and "Indiana Alumni Magazine." Kauffman has a B.A. in journalism from Indiana University.