Sleep physiologist

Sleep physiologists provide specialist services to people who experience sleep disorders. They also treat other medical problems that complicate these disorders. Sleep and breathing disorders include:

  • sleep apnoea
  • narcolepsy
  • parasomnias
  • Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome
  • Neuromuscular Disease
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Starting your career

Choosing subjects at school

To become a sleep physiologist, useful school subjects include:

  • English
  • Chemistry
  • Human Biology
  • Maths
  • Physics

Work placements and volunteering

If you’re at school or thinking about changing your career, you may find it helpful to do a work placement. There may also be opportunities to volunteer. You’ll learn new skills, improve your knowledge and discover what it’s like to work in the health service.

Apprenticeships

Foundation Apprenticeships

A Foundation Apprenticeship taken in S5 or S6 can give you the skills, knowledge and work experience to begin your career journey in healthcare. 

Learn more about the Foundation Apprenticeship in Social Services and Healthcare.

Education pathway

Scotland, there are several ways you can enter the profession. Whichever route you choose, you must complete a degree programme accredited by the Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS).

College and university

If you decide to go to college first, you could do an HNC or HND in:

  • Applied Sciences
  • Applied Biological Sciences

These qualifications could help when applying to do an undergraduate degree at university.

If you’re applying to university, relevant undergraduate degree programmes include:

  • Physiology
  • Biology or Human Biology
  • Sports Science

Widening participation supports adult learners who want to go to university. If you’re an adult with few or no qualifications, you could get into higher education through the Scottish Widening Access Programme (SWAP). Many universities also provide access programmes to help you get the degree entry qualifications you need.

Search for college or university courses on My World of Work.

Trainee sleep physiologist recruitment

Trainee respiratory physiologist vacancies are advertised on the NHSScotland recruitment website.

NHS Practitioner Training Programme (PTP)

The undergraduate-level Practitioner Training Programme includes work-based learning and university study. It is the route for trainees who don’t already have a relevant degree.

You’ll be employed by an NHSScotland Health Board and enrolled on an undergraduate degree programme at Glasgow Caledonian University.

The programme lasts for 4 years and you will:

  • receive in-house training within the department 
  • gain a BSc Clinical Physiology (Hons) degree 

On graduation, you’d be expected to register with the Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS).

Equivalence programme

If you already have a relevant AHCS accredited degree, you can apply for an equivalence programme.

To gain equivalence with the PTP programme, you’ll be trained in-house and complete the Association for Respiratory Technology and Physiology (ARTP) exams. Once your Certificate of Equivalence is issued, you’ll be able to register with the AHCS. Some staff may prefer to register with the Registration Council for Clinical Physiologists (RCCP).

The role

As a sleep physiologist, you’ll conduct a series of tests on people with sleep disorders. You may be involved in different investigations, such as:

  • multiple sleep latency test
  • maintenance of wakefulness test
  • polysomnography
  • overnight domiciliary screening
  • continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy initiation and follow up
  • BiLevel therapy initiation and follow-up

You will use different equipment and machinery including:

  • computerised sleep system and diagnostic sensors
  • overnight respiratory screening devices
  • transcutaneous CO2 monitors
  • CPAP machines
  • automatic variable pressure CPAP machines
  • BiLevel machines

You’ll also support people who are using home sleep therapy equipment with remote management software. The software helps to monitor and identify issues and which require treatment adjustments and long-term management.

What you’ll do

Your main tasks include:

  • calibrating, cleaning and preparing specialised sleep equipment
  • downloading results from home test trials on an individual patient basis
  • setting up equipment for use on hospital wards
  • preparing patients for overnight recordings
  • manually interpreting and creating reports from polysomnographic data

You will also be expected to keep up to date with new developments in sleep medicine or be involved in using and validating the latest equipment available.

Top skills

You’ll need these skills:

  • caring for people
  • collaborating with people
  • decision-making
  • leadership
  • problem-solving
  • working in a team

Who you’ll work with

You could work with:

  • respiratory physiologists
  • cardiac physiologists
  • neurophysiologists
  • physiotherapists
  • nurses
  • doctors

Working environment

You could work in:

  • hospitals
  • laboratories
  • clinics

Useful information

To work as a sleep physiologist in NHSScotland, you’ll need to:

  • complete occupational health checks
  • be registered with the Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS) Or Registration Council for Clinical Physiologists (RCCP) in respiratory or sleep physiology
  • join the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme managed by Disclosure Scotland

You could also have:

  • a registered Polysomnographic Technologist (RPGST) qualification
  • the European Sleep Research Society (ESRS) Certification in Sleep Medicine for Sleep Technologists

Learning and development

Once you’ve become a registered sleep physiologist, there are ongoing requirements for education and skills development. You’ll also have lots of opportunities to go further and learn more. Continuing professional development could include:

  • applying for research grants
  • researching new devices
  • post-qualification training courses
  • receiving training on new equipment

You will be expected to undertake courses and on-the-job training in a specialist area of sleep medicine. There are associated highly specialist posts available:

  • polysomnography clinical reporting
  • non-invasive ventilation practitioner
  • consultation at physiologist-led sleep clinics

With training and experience, you could move into a supervisory or management role, such as sleep physiology service manager or head of clinical physiology. If you become head of the department, you would be responsible for a team of staff and for managing a budget.

There will be opportunities for you to train current staff or the next generation of sleep physiologists. With an MSc or PhD in a relevant subject, you could move into teaching.

Some clinical physiologists working in sleep medicine also undertake academic research.

Professional bodies

Once you become a sleep physiologist, you can register with the: