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Why You Need to Pay Attention to Nursing Fatigue

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Nursing burnout, depression and fatigue are serious conditions that deserve attention and care. 

When you work long nursing shifts and put others before yourself, you may be skipping out on essential self-care and your mental health wellness (sometimes without even realizing it), which can take a toll on your mind and body. And, if your schedule often bounces between the day and night shift, you might even suffer from sleep deprivation. 

In this article, we’ll address nurse fatigue and the effects it can have on your health and performance. We’ll also look at how this condition can impact nurse safety. As you read, remember to think of fatigue as your body’s natural alarm system telling you that it needs to take a break and reset.

Let’s dive into the causes and symptoms of this nurse problem so you can be on the lookout for them to help yourself (and, in turn, your patients) stay healthy and safe. 

Effects of fatigue in nurses

Before we explain how fatigue manifests, let’s talk about its seriousness. We should never dismiss nursing fatigue’s effects, as they’re dangerous for nurses and the general public.

We know that you do everything you can for your patients to provide the best possible care. But when you’re physically exhausted, it doesn’t matter how hard you try. Your own body and mind can thwart even your best efforts, and patient safety could be at increased risk (especially if you work in critical care). One of the common and scariest effects of nurse fatigue is making mistakes with patient care. Extreme sleepiness can affect your decision-making and increase the chances of accidents such as administering a drug to which the patient is allergic.

Tired nurses can also be a danger to themselves. Even superheroes have their breaking points, which means the most experienced registered nurses aren’t invincible to accidents in or out of the workplace (medication errors or drowsy driving, for instance). Remember, at the end of the day, we’re all human.

Nurse wearing paneled-mesh v-neck top navy scrubs

Symptoms of fatigue in the nursing practice

You have a tiring job. How can you tell if you’re having an off-day or suffering from more severe nursing fatigue or burnout? If you have any of the symptoms below, you may be experiencing fatigue. It’s time to learn how to avoid and treat it: 

  • Exhaustion: This may seem obvious, but if you find yourself with little or no energy day after day, it’s time to take a break. We’ll explain how to do so below. 
  • Compassion fatigue or insensitivity: Our emotions don’t kick in properly when tired and overworked. Don’t beat yourself up about it if you feel detached, can’t empathize with your patients or simply feel tired of nursing. That’s likely nursing fatigue, and the good news is you’re catching it in time to treat it.
  • Mental health concerns: If you’re feeling depressed, anxious or irritable, or have trouble sleeping, your mental health may pay the price for your fatigue. If you detect these signs, it’s time to step back. 
  • Lack of desire to work: Yes, we all have a few days a month when we simply don’t want to get out of bed to work, but if you find yourself dreading the hospital, you may be suffering from fatigue. Again, this is your body telling you to slow down. 

What can cause fatigue in a nurse?

If you think you may have nurse fatigue and want to know why, you’re taking the first step to care for yourself physically, mentally and emotionally. There are several top causes of nurse fatigue. If you are experiencing the symptoms above and dealing with any of the risk factors  below, we recommend reading the techniques to avoid and treat your condition at the end of this article: 

  • Working long hours (those 12-hour shifts)
  • Working too many consecutive shifts
  • Sleeping inconsistently or inadequately
  • Accumulating mental and physical stress in the workplace 
  • Working alone or without enough support 
  • Overextending oneself emotionally when empathizing with patients
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How to avoid fatigue in the workplace

You probably can’t take a month-long vacation to Fiji to shake off your stress, but you can implement smaller everyday strategies to mitigate fatigue. Here’s how you can tackle nursing fatigue at its root:

  • Take breaks to rehydrate, eat well and clear your mind
  • Build a support system with your colleagues
  • Delegate wherever and whenever possible
  • Avoid overly long shifts or revamp your work schedule entirely
  • Regulate your sleep (even if you’re on the night shift)
  • Stay active outside of work (walking, running or doing yoga—whatever endorphin-releasing activity makes you feel good)

How to treat nursing fatigue 

Mitigation ensures that you don’t end up exhausted, but sometimes, no matter what you do, work catches up with you. So if you are already suffering from nurse stress, take a deep breath and consider some of the following fatigue management strategies to improve your well-being: 

  • Getting professional help from a therapist 
  • Taking actual breaks if you have the vacation days
  • Limiting your screen time and try to get to solid rest
  • Reworking your schedule (healthcare organizations should be mindful of nurse fatigue and willing to help)
  • Switching to a less stressful specialty
  • Respecting the power of work-life balance (spending time with friends and family)
  • Relaxing with activities like journaling or meditating (anything that helps keep you grounded) 

Taking care of nursing fatigue starts from within, but we’re here to support you throughout the journey. While you get started on the inside, we can help you feel rejuvenated and fresh on the outside with our premium scrubs. Looking and feeling good at the office can improve your day. And once you’re at home, we’ve got you covered with our softest, off-shift collection.

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