Careers and Internships in Sleep

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With 50 to 70 million adults having a sleep disorder, and over a third regularly missing out on their recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep, the CDC has declared insufficient sleep a public health problem.

Who can help these sleep-deprived individuals? The sleep scientists, doctors, health professionals, and product manufacturers employed by the booming sleep industry.

Over 50,000 people are currently employed in this now $7 billion industry, according to IBISWorld’s Sleep Disorder Clinics industry report. The industry has seen 3 percent growth in just the past five years, and it doesn’t show any indication of slowing down. More and more health insurance companies include lab and home sleep tests, CPAP therapy, and consultations with sleep health professionals in their coverage. Sales of over-the-counter sleep aids skyrocketed 31 percent between 2006 and 2011. Despite greater public awareness of the health and emotional issues caused by insufficient sleep, our increasing reliance on technology will only bolster the industry, since we’ll suffer more sleep issues due to our sustained interaction with blue light.

By 2020, IBISWorld expects the industry to near $10 billion.

Careers in sleep

Just as the sleep industry has grown, so have the careers to support it. Raising awareness and interest in how sleep affects our health has led to the establishment of many university-run sleep laboratories, such as those at University of Pennsylvania, Duke University, and Harvard University. Harvard University alone receives over $20 million per year for sleep research.

There is even a bachelor’s degree dedicated to sleep at the University of North Carolina. The UNC Neurodiagnostics and Sleep Science (NDSS) bachelor degree program congratulated its first graduates in 2013.

Health-related careers are growing across the country. Here’s a look at which states claim the highest numbers of healthcare employment. As you apply to colleges and internships, you may choose to focus your efforts in these states.

healthcare careers by state

Below we review the most common career paths in the following sleep-related fields:

  • Sleep science
  • Sleep technology
  • Neuroscience
  • Psychology/psychiatry
  • Dental sleep medicine
  • Sleep products

Sleep Science

Sleep scientists

What do sleep scientists do?

Sleep scientists are scientists who work on the latest in sleep research. They may work in a lab, a hospital, or an university. They study animals and humans to learn more about how and why we sleep, how we can sleep better, and how sleep affects our health and wellbeing. The work of sleep scientists often results in new treatments for sleep disorders.

Sleep scientists have their pick of scientific fields to study in college, including biochemistry, biology, endocrinology, epidemiology, genetics, neuroscience, pharmacology, physiology, and psychology. After they receive their bachelor’s degree, they’ll continue on to their doctorate degree and undergo a postdoctoral fellowship.

The professional organization for sleep scientists is the Sleep Research Society.

Sleep specialistssleep physician

 

 

What do sleep specialists do?

Sleep specialists are doctors who are board-certified in sleep medicine. Sleep specialists often come from one of these medical fields: anesthesiology, family medicine, internal medicine, pulmonary medicine, otolaryngology, pediatrics, psychiatry or neurology.

Sleep specialists often work in a university- or hospital-based sleep center treating sleep disorders, although they may choose to have a private practice. They work with EEG equipment and diagnose sleep issues using polysomnography or Multiple Sleep Latency Tests. Like sleep scientists, they may also work as professors at a university.

After receiving their bachelor’s degree, sleep specialists go to get a MD or DO medical degree, followed by a residency and sleep medicine fellowship.

A sleep specialist’s salary depends on their tenure and where they work (in their own sleep center, an independent lab, or a hospital-based lab).

The professional organization for sleep specialists is the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Sleep respiratory therapist

What do sleep respiratory therapists do?

Sleep respiratory therapists work with patients who have breathing problems that interfere with sleep, such as snoring and obstructive sleep apnea.

Many sleep respiratory therapists work in hospitals or sleep labs, helping patients understand how to properly use CPAP therapy. They are trained to provide emergency care as well as consultations.

After acquiring an Associate’s Degree, aspiring respiratory therapists may go on to get a Bachelor’s Degree in a health-related field. Regardless, they will need to get a Certified Respiratory therapist (CRT) or Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) certification as well as a Sleep Disorders Specialist (SDS) certification.

The professional organization for sleep respiratory therapists is the National Board for Respiratory Care.

Sleep Technology

Sleep center managers/directors

  • sleep center managerAverage annual salary: $72,000-$82,350 (Sleep Review, 2015, Salary.com, 2017)
  • Education required: Bachelor’s degree preferred
  • Projected job growth outlook: Positive, given sustained growth of sleep clinics.
  • Number of people employed: 100+ (Sleep Review, 2015)

What do sleep center managers do?

Sleep center managers and directors are certified as sleep technologists and manage operations at a sleep disorders center. They work under the medical director to ensure all patients are being evaluated and treated properly and that proper protocols are being followed by the sleep technologists and staff. They typically work during the daytime, hiring and managing staff, developing center policies and procedures, and overseeing billing and operations. They also provide career development and evaluations for staff and ensure the facility and staff maintain accreditation.

Associate’s degrees are required, although bachelor’s are preferred. Related certifications include Registered Sleep Technologist (RST), Registered Polysomnographic Technologist (RPSGT), Certificate in Clinical Sleep Health (CCSH), and Sleep Disorders Specialist (SDS).

The professional organization for sleep center managers is the American Association of Sleep Technologists.

Sleep health educator

What do sleep health educators do?

Sleep health educators primarily work in sleep disorders centers. They are fully knowledgeable on all aspects of sleep technology and any sleep disorders the center diagnoses and treats. They interface with patients to provide them with additional information on their disorder and assist them with treatment, including modifications as needed. They also communicate and work with the doctors and other staff.

While other sleep center roles are focused more on diagnosis and suggested treatment, the sleep health educator focuses on ensuring patient compliance with their treatment. This is a more tenured position that favors individuals with a bachelor’s degree and a Certification in Clinical Sleep Health (CCSH). Associate’s degrees are accepted, when combined with a Registered Sleep Technologist (RST), Registered Polysomnographic Technologist (RPSGT), or Sleep Disorders Specialist (CEDS) certification.

Sleep technologists/polysomnographic technologists

What do sleep technologists do?

Sleep technologists, also known as polysomnographic technologists, work in sleep labs at disorder centers. They operate the special equipment used during a sleep study, and monitor a patient’s vital signs such as their brain waves, heart activity, oxygen level, breathing, and eye and muscle movement. They typically work under the direction of a sleep specialist doctor.  The technologist records all of the data for the doctor, who then interprets the results and issues a diagnosis for the patient.

Sleep technologists are trained in clinical protocols for Multiple Sleep Latency Tests, parasomnia exams, and polysomnography. Besides sleep studies, they help patients with obstructive sleep apnea learn how to use CPAP devices.

The majority of their work is done at night, with three or four shifts per week of ten or twelve hours each. As they become more tenured, they may get to work more daytime hours or become managers of the sleep center.

Polysomnographic technologists may supervise sleep technicians or sleep trainees, which describe training roles a person may undergo as they study to become certified as a full sleep technologist. Individuals may have six months of on the job training as a sleep trainee or have received a Certified Polysomnographic Technician (CPSGT) credential. Sleep trainees are typically currently undergoing certification or getting their associate’s degree.

After receiving their high school diploma or GED, sleep technologists graduate from an associate’s degree, CAAHEP, or A-STEP program.

  • The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) accredits over 2,100 education programs in 30 occupations, including polysomnographic technologists and neurodiagnostic technology. Certifications include Registered Sleep Technologist (RST), Registered Polysomnographic Technologist (RPSGT), and Sleep Disorders Specialists (SDS).
  • The Accredited Sleep Technologist Education Program (A-STEP) was developed by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Aspiring sleep technologists undergo a 80-hour in-person course that includes hands-on training, followed by a three-hour online exam. Finally, individuals complete online self-study modules at their own pace while receiving 18 months of supervised on-the-job training at a sleep disorders center.

Industry experts expect the scope of skills required for sleep technologists to grow in coming years, perhaps due to pioneering programs like UNC’s new bachelor degree program for neurodiagnostics and sleep science. At the 2013 American Association of Sleep Technologists (AAST) Sleep Technology Summit, 83 percent of members agreed that “education requirements for sleep technologists will increase in the next 5-10 years.”

The professional organization for sleep technologists is the American Association of Sleep Technologists.

Neuroscience

Sleep neurologist

 

 

What do sleep neurologists do?

Neurologists specialize in treating damage to the brain, spinal cord, and nervous system and related disorders. Many people with neurological disabilities experience fragmented sleep and suffer from sleep disorders like insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome.

Sleep neurologists are trained in both sleep medicine and neurology. In addition to diagnosing sleep issues using EEG equipment, polysomnograms, and Multiple Sleep Latency Tests, they will also diagnose symptoms through psychological screenings and questionnaires like the Epworth Sleepiness Scale.

After receiving their bachelor’s degree in biology or another health-related field, neurologists attend medical school. Next, they complete an internship, residency, and fellowship. Finally, they become board-certified.

The professional organization for sleep neurologists is the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Neurodiagnostic technologist

What do neurodiagnostic technologists do?

Neurodiagnostic technologists work with sleep scientists, sleep specialists, and neurologists to monitor and collect data recordings of the nervous system. They administer electroencephalography, polysomnography, evoked potential, long term monitoring, and intraoperative neuromonitoring tests. They calibrate the equipment and apply electrodes to the patients, whom they monitor during the study to take notes that they’ll later share with the physician.

Neurodiagnostic technologists work in neurology departments at hospitals, or in clinics and private practices of neurologists and neurosurgeons. Typically they work a 40-hour week, with occasional 12-hour days to monitor sleep studies.

After graduating high school or passing their GED, sleep technologists undergo an associate’s degree program or get a CAAHEP with a focus on anatomy, physiology, and neuroanatomy.

Projected job growth for this field is positive, considering the increased use of EEG and EP recordings in surgery and in diagnosing epilepsy and sleep disorders.

The professional organization for neurodiagnostic technologists is ASET (American Society of Electroneurodiagnostic Technologists) – The Neurodiagnostic Society.

Psychology/Psychiatry

Behavioral sleep medicine specialist

What do behavioral sleep medicine specialists do?

The American Psychological Association began promoting this career in 2007, as many sleep disorders are triggered by or co-exist with psychological disorders like ADHD, depression, and schizophrenia. Behavioral sleep medicine specialists are trained in cognitive and behavioral therapies that help alleviate symptoms of insomnia, nightmares, and anxiety.

Cognitive therapy helps the patient reframe their emotions and thoughts surrounding sleep to reduce fears, anxiety, or racing thoughts. Behavioral therapies focus on changing the patient’s actions or habits that prevent them from sleeping well, such as drinking less alcohol or establishing a bedtime routine.

Behavioral sleep medicine specialists may work directly with patients in a sleep disorders center, advising on treatments. They can also teach as professors at universities, or perform research in a university or hospital.

After receiving their bachelor’s degree, behavioral sleep medicine specialists go on to get their doctorate degree as a PhD or PsyD and undergo a postdoctoral fellowship. Then they pass the American Board of SLeep Medicine exam to get certified.

The professional organization for behavioral sleep medicine specialists is the Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine.

Dental sleep medicine

Dental sleep medicine specialist

What do dental sleep medicine specialists do?

Many sleep disorders are directly related to the mouth, jaw and throat, such as sleep bruxism (teeth grinding during sleep), snoring, and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Dental sleep medicine specialists are dentists who help diagnose these individuals and help them find appropriate treatment.

While CPAP machines are the recommended treatment for sleep apnea, about half of patients won’t use them because they’re so uncomfortable. The oral appliances provided by dental sleep medicine specialists offer these individuals an alternative way to alleviate symptoms. These devices move the lower jaw and tongue forward, freeing up the airways and improving airflow. Dentists fit these to the patient’s mouth by taking a mold.

Oral and maxillofacial surgeons help individuals with severe OSA by performing tonsillectomies or reconstructive jaw or nose surgeries that free up the airways and reduce symptoms.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree, aspiring dental sleep medicine specialists go to dental school and get licensed in their state.

The professional organization for dental sleep medicine specialists is the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine.

Dental technicians

What do dental technicians do?

Dental technicians work under the supervision of a dentist to construct, fit or repair oral appliances. They often work in laboratories to create appliances based off of models of the patient’s teeth.

After high school, aspiring dental technicians can get an Associate’s Degree in dental science or a related field. There is also a Certified Dental Technician (CDT) certification available which requires 5 years of on-the job training or graduation from an accredited program, followed by 3 exams.

Sleep Products

If you’re interested in sleep, but don’t wish to pursue a career in healthcare or research, consider a job at a sleep products company. Positions are as multifaceted as at any other company, and include marketing, sales, human resources, accounting, operations, web development and design, and more. Bachelor’s degrees are preferred for all of these positions, with some additional certification required for human resources and accounting.

Internships in sleep

A great way to gauge if a career path is right for you is through a college internships. Below we’ve rounded up the most comprehensive list of sleep-related internships out there. Choose a career path of your choice to jump directly to that section:

  • Internships in sleep research
  • Internships in sleep science
  • Internships in dental sleep medicine
  • Internships in behavioral sleep medicine
  • Internships at sleep product companies
  • Internships at the National Sleep Foundation

Sleep research internships

  • The National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, part of the National Institutes of Health, provides summer internships for high school, undergraduate, graduate, and medical students in neuroscience research. Interns work alongside scientists at NINDS Labs in Bethesda, Rockville MD and Cape Cod, MA.
  • Boston University’s Neurorehabilitation Lab performs clinical trials and conducts research to develop cognitive rehabilitation and noninvasive brain stimulation for Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury and posttraumatic stress disorder. Interns assist with assessing and qualifying trial participants, analyzing data, and monitoring sleep quality using actigraphy. Undergraduate students studying cognitive psychology, neuroscience, or pre-med are encouraged to apply.
  • At Brown University’s E.P. Bradley Hospital Sleep and Chronobiology Research Lab, interns work alongside sleep specialists to examine circadian rhythms and sleep patterns in children and young adults. They also observe and learn how to setup and analyze EEG recordings, polysomnography, and Multiple Sleep Latency Test procedures. Undergraduate students interested in behavioral sciences research are encouraged to apply to the summer apprenticeship program based in Providence, RI.
  • Harvard University’s Mind Brain Behavior Initiative offers a variety of research assistantships and internship. Positions range from working in a sleep clinic to performing animal research on sleep-cycles of animals in the lab.

Sleep neuroscience internships

  • The Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience lists current neuroscience-related internships on its website. These internships are located across the United States in hospitals, research centers, or university-affiliated labs.
  • Duke University’s Center for Cognitive Neuroscience offers internships at many of its labs, including: the Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, which studies sleep deprivation; the Chronobiology and Sleep Laboratory, which studies circadian rhythm disorders and how the sleep-wake cycle affects human physiology; and the Sleep and Health Laboratory, which studies the effects of sleep deprivation on cognitive performance and fertility.

Dental sleep medicine internships

  • Since 2008, the Ferris Dental Internship Program in Sterling, IL, tailors internships for high school juniors, seniors, and undergraduate college students interested in the fields of dentistry, business management, and marketing. Interns work under the direction of James S. Ferris, DDS. Internships are available for summer sessions and both school semesters.
  • The Gary R. Login internships offers dentistry internships to up to two college graduates each year. Interns shadow Gary R. Login, DMD, out of the Brookline, MA office.
  • Texas A&M University’s Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Internship is a one-year pre-residency program for new dental graduates. Interns are trained in various surgical procedures and work under the direction of Dr. Likith V. Reddy. Two full-time internships are available each year to U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have obtained a DDS or DMD degree.
  • The Glidewell Laboratories Internship Program offers summer and full-time internships for undergraduates and recent college graduates. Based in Newport Beach, CA, the company is the largest dental lab in the world and provides dental lab products to dental professionals across the nation.

Behavioral sleep medicine internships

  • Spectrum Health offers a full-time, year-long Psychology Internship out of their Grand Rapids, MI headquarters. Interns work alongside Dr. Lisa Vroman, PhD, who focuses on pediatric behavioral sleep medicine, or Dr. Leisha Cuddihy, PhD, CBSM, who provides cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia and sleep disorders.
  • The Adult Psychology Track in Duke University’s Clinical Psychology Internship program includes a rotation in their Behavioral Sleep Medicine Clinic, which diagnoses and treats patients with insomnia, circadian rhythm disorders, and sleep apnea. Treatment often addresses comorbid conditions such as anxiety, depression, or other health issues. Interns work with doctors to learn various assessment tools and observe as well as conduct their own CBT therapy and assessments.
  • The University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine runs a Behavioral Sleep Medicine program with research assistantship and fellowship opportunities. Interns get experience in lab and clinical research, as well as patient consultations. Interns practice assessing sleep quality using sleep scores and EEG recordings, researching pediatric sleep disorders, and using CBT to treat insomnia and nightmares.
  • Rush University in Chicago’s Healthy Psychology Track internships includes a rotation in the Sleep Disorders Service and Research Center. Interns work alongside doctors who diagnose and treat individuals with sleep disorders. Interns receive training in CBT for insomnia and learn how to use CPAP machines for sleep apnea. They also attend patient interviews and perform diagnostic testing in the sleep laboratory.

Sleep product company internships

  • Mattress retailer Casper offers internships out of their Berlin, Germany office in business development and human resources. Majors in marketing, business administration, economics, or human science are encouraged to apply.
  • Consumer technology company Rythm designs neurotechnology products like their sleep wearable Dream. They offer internships in both their Paris and San Francisco offices that range from the business side of operations (web development, product management, and marketing) to clinical research and sleep science.
  • Cariloha creates mattress, bedding, bath products, and clothing – all made from bamboo. Internships take place out of their retail stores, located in tourist destinations like Alaska, California, Florida, and Hawaii. Internships last 3 to 6 months and expose participants to sales, marketing, and operations management.
  • Many corporate internships can also be found on job boards like Indeed, CareerBuilder, and Glassdoor, as well as internship databases like Internships.com and WayUp (formerly InternMatch). Don’t forget to check your university website to find internships related to your major.

Internships at the National Sleep Foundation

The National Sleep Foundation is a non-profit dedicated to increasing the public’s knowledge about sleep health and sleep disorders through advocacy and research. The organization offers internships during the fall, spring, and summer semesters out of their Arlington, VA headquarters. Interns are unpaid but receive college credit. Undergraduate or graduate students in education, science, business, nonprofit management or public health-related majors are encouraged to view their latest internship openings here.

  • Admin Operations interns work with the Accounting team on various administrative tasks, such as booking travel for the CEO, working with Excel and project management software to organize trademarks, providing general accounting support, and coordinating membership communications.
  • Business Development interns work with the Accounting team to manage trademark documents, sponsorship opportunities, grant applications, and Amazon sales.
  • Sleep Technology interns work with the Sleep Technology and Education Coordinator to incorporate sleep science in consumer products and services, develop educational programs and content, and partner with business investors in the sleep products industry.
  • Government Affairs interns meet with congressional staff and attend hearings and events with policy makers to advocate on sleep health matters related to the military, children, veterans and seniors.
  • Sleep Health Education and Training interns work with the Director of Education to develop written content, multimedia, online modules, assessments, and questionnaires related to sleep health for continuing medical education programs attended by healthcare professionals.
  • Health Research Interns work with the Director of Scientific Affairs & Research to develop supportive literature and presentations for NSF initiatives like the Sleep Health Index and perform related research and reviews.

Additional resources

Professional Organizations for Sleep

  • The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) is the professional organization for sleep medicine. Over 10,000 doctors, health professionals, scientists, and sleep centers are members. AASM performs advocacy work and research, develops clinical guidelines for sleep medical procedures and testing, provides continuing education resources, and hosts events for its members. The site also offers a Job Board, an Accreditation Center, and educational courses.
  • The American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM) is the professional organization for over 3,000 dental sleep medicine and dentists who treat sleep-disordered breathing with oral appliance therapy and anti-snoring devices. The AADSM holds annual meetings, publishes the Journal of Dental Sleep Medicine, and provides accreditation applications, continuing education courses, and online learning modules through its website. The site also lists all members in its public dentist directory for patients seeking help.
  • The Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine is the professional organization for nearly 300 PhDs and PsyDs. The Society publishes the Behavioral Sleep Medicine journal, and offers education courses, in-person networking events, and online webinars. There is both a regular and student membership.
  • The American Association of Sleep Technologists (AAST) is the professional organization for over 4,500 sleep technologists. AAST standardizes sleep technologist educational programs, and provides continuing education resources, a job board, regular networking events, and access to their quarterly membership magazine.
  • ASET – The Neurodiagnostic Society is the professional organization for neurodiagnostic technologists and related health professionals. Members receive access to an online education portal, subscription to The Neurodiagnostic Journal, and invitations to conferences and networking events.
  • The Sleep Research Society is a professional organization for over 1,200 sleep researchers. Membership includes access to continuing education online modules and webinars, networking events, and information on the latest research and public policy developments in sleep and circadian science. The organization publishes the journal SLEEP.

Sleep Career/Job Boards

Continuing Education

Sleep Research Sites

  • Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine shares the latest news in sleep science and research. For Cambridge-area individuals, there are also opportunities to sign up for research studies and attend events, apply for research and clinical training programs, and enroll for Continuing Medical Education courses.
  • The International Sleep Products Association (ISPA) is a research organization dedicated to the mattress and sleep products industry. ISPA publishes the latest research on their website and shares recent industry news in their BedTimes trade and business journal.
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