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How to become a sleep physiologist

You’ll need to apply for trainee opportunities on our recruitment website to become a sleep physiologist. There are different training options, including undergraduate-level and in-house training programmes, depending on your experience and qualifications.

What is a sleep physiologist?

Sleep physiology practitioners help people to improve the quality of their sleep. They investigate, diagnose, and treat sleep disorders using monitoring devices and specialist equipment. 

Starting your career as sleep physiologist

Choosing subjects at school

If you’re interested in a career as a sleep physiologist, useful school subjects include:

  • English
  • Biology
  • Maths
  • Chemistry
  • Physics

Speak to your guidance teacher or careers adviser about subjects offered at your school.

Workplacements and volunteering

You may find it helpful to get some healthcare experience by doing a work placement or volunteering. You’ll get training, increase your knowledge, and learn new skills. This could help you when applying to college, university, or a new job with NHSScotland. 

Education and training pathway

One route to becoming a sleep physiologist is to complete an undergraduate honours degree programme at SCQF level 10 before applying for training opportunities in the NHS.

Some UK universities offer an undergraduate degree in Healthcare Science (Respiratory and Sleep Physiology). Other related science degree subjects include:

  • Physiology
  • Physiology and Sports Science
  • Sport and Exercise Science
  • Physiological Sciences

Search for undergraduate science degree programmes on My World of Work.

As a trainee, you’ll complete a 3-year practical and theoretical training programme. You can then register as a healthcare science practitioner with the Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS).  

Other work-based training programmes

Some health boards offer alternative work-based training programmes if you already have an undergraduate honours degree in a related science subject at SCQF level 10. 

As a trainee, you’ll complete a practical and theoretical training programme. You can then register as a healthcare science practitioner with the AHCS.

You can apply for training opportunities on our recruitment website.

Academy for Healthcare Science

The Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS) maintains voluntary registers for healthcare science professions not covered by statutory registration and regulation. These registers are accredited by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care (PSA).

When you qualify as a cardiac clinical physiologist, you can register with the AHCS as a healthcare science practitioner.

Find out more about the Academy for Healthcare Science.

Get to know the role

As a sleep physiologist, you’ll monitor patients who experience poor sleep quality by using remote monitoring devices or doing overnight sleep studies.

Your investigations will identify conditions that may require treatment and long-term management, including:

  • obstructive sleep apnoea hypopnea syndrome
  • narcolepsy
  • parasomnias
  • obesity hypoventilation syndrome
  • neuromuscular disease
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

You’ll also treat other medical problems that impact or complicate sleep or breathing disorders.

The different types of tests you would do include:

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

You’ll use specialised equipment and monitoring devices, including:

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

You’ll need these skills:

  • communicating
  • collaborating
  • critical thinking
  • focussing
  • leading
  • problem-solving

You could work with:

  • respiratory physiologists
  • assistant practitioners in physiological sciences
  • cardiac physiologists
  • neurophysiologists
  • physiotherapists
  • nurses
  • doctors
  • other sleep physiologists

As a sleep physiologist, you might work in:

  • hospitals
  • sleep medicine departments
  • clinics

Learning and development

Once you’ve become a registered sleep physiology practitioner, there are ongoing requirements for continuous education and skills development. You’ll have lots of opportunities to go further and learn more.

Career progression

With training and experience, you could move into a specialist, advanced, or management role, such as a sleep physiology service manager.

Clinical scientist equivalence recognition

Sleep physiologists can apply to become clinical scientists to progress in their careers.

If you already have significant professional NHS experience in sleep physiology or have completed a training programme that does not directly lead to registration as a clinical scientist, you can apply for equivalence recognition.

It is a route you can take to demonstrate that you already have the skills, knowledge, and experience to become a clinical scientist in sleep physiology.

You’ll submit a portfolio of work to the AHCS or the Association of Clinical Scientists for assessment and attend an interview. If successful, you can register with the Health and Care Professions Council as a clinical scientist.

Find out more about clinical scientist training and equivalence recognition on the NHS Education for Scotland Healthcare Science website.

Professional bodies

Once you become a sleep physiologist, you can register with the Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS).

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