You fall asleep during the middle of the day. You nod off frequently while watching TV. It could be habit or it could be a sleep problem. Many people think they can live with the exhaustion, but experts say a sleep disorder can cause life threatening medical conditions. The Sleep Diagnostics program at Volunteer State Community College trains students in detection methods used in the diagnosis of these disorders. The Vol State program is now open to East Tennessee students.
“It’s so overlooked. Growing up you hear that you need to eat right and exercise. You also need to be able to sleep well,” said Mel Matthews, director of the Sleep Diagnostics Technology Program at Vol State. “A lot of patients wind up with high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, immune deficiencies, and numerous other disorders. Sleep apnea or sleep deprivation can be at the root of it. Even disorders like osteoporosis and dementia can be related to a sleep disorder. My students are always surprised and amazed at the extent of how sleep affects the entire body and all its physiologic functions”.
A Sleep Diagnostics Technologist watches the patient sleep and monitors for things such as how many times the patient wakes up, stops breathing or has limb movements during the night. Sleep technologists, also known as polysomnographic technologists, monitor other variables such as sleep stages using electroencephalography, muscle tension with electromyography, eye movements, limb movements, respiratory patterns, and blood- oxygen level. The technologists then score the data recordings of the various measures and compile the findings into a report which helps doctors make a diagnosis.
The Vol State Sleep Diagnostics program is in high demand. The job placement rate for graduates is nearly 100 percent. It’s a field that is fast growing, due in part to the increase in obesity, which can be a major cause of sleep disorders. The Vol State program is the oldest fully-accredited school for sleep diagnostics in Tennessee. The accreditation means that students will be qualified to sit for the board exam immediately upon completion of the program. Tennessee has a state licensure requirement for polysomnography. In order to receive a TN license to practice polysomnography, you must be registered or pass the board exam and receive the RPSGT credential. In order to sit for the board exam, an applicant must first go through an accredited program like the one at Vol Sate.
Most of the classes are held online except for the clinical training, providing for flexibility, especially for working students. The hands-on clinical training for East TN residents can be done at Bristol Regional Medical Center, and students can do their clinical rotations at sleep centers throughout the area. The application for the program is due by October 1 annually, with a new cohort of students beginning each spring.
Pictured: Students apply electrodes during practice in the Vol State sleep diagnostics lab.