6 Ways to Prevent Nursing Fatigue and Stress

Nursing is a difficult job, and there’s no doubt that most aspiring nurses begin their schooling completely aware of that fact, but sometimes it may lead to nursing fatigue. Here’s 6 strategies to avoid on-the-job fatigue.

There’s a difference between working with a healthy amount of stress and struggling under unbearable pressure. As burnout rates and statistics of nurse fatigue seem to suggest, many registered nurses are simply facing too many hours, too many patients, and too many responsibilities.

It’s not just about leading a better and more fulfilling professional life – it’s also about patient safety. Patients are in danger when they are cared for by fatigued and stressed nurses, who are more likely to make mistakes. The American Nurses Association has recognized the risks posed by nursing fatigue and asks both nurses and hospitals to pitch in against this issue.

What is Nursing Fatigue?

It’s important to note that fatigue is more than just sleepiness. While drowsiness factors into fatigue, fatigue in a profession is best described as a lack of energy, and as a general slowness.

Fatigue is generated by stress, more specifically, levels of stress the mind (and body) cannot adapt to. Stress is unequivocally a good thing in proper doses, but when exposed to too much, we begin to show signs of tiredness both mentally and physically:

  • Becoming prone to errors
  • Struggling with slower reaction times
  • Poor teamwork
  • Higher irritability
  • Trouble with empathy, and so on

Solving the problems that cause nursing fatigue requires a two-way approach. Both nurses and hospital administrators can do more to manage fatigue levels. We’ll go over some effective strategies to help manage fatigue and reduce errors in the workplace.

1. Get Enough Sleep

While fatigue is more than just sleepiness, lack of sleep often contributes heavily to nursing fatigue. More than anything else, it’s the length of each shift and the frequency of long shifts that contribute to a nurse’s fatigue levels. The human body and mind perform best when well-rested, and everyone has their own magic number.

But the realities of the job mean that many nurses struggle to balance life and work and sleep, not finding the time to commit themselves to their shifts and still take care of crucial errands and chores without sacrificing sleep.

Prioritize sleep, first and foremost. Before a good diet, regular exercise, and proper self-care, comes a good night’s sleep. While the science to figuring out the lower limit on sleep is still new, it’s generally accepted that most adults need 7-9 hours to be well-rested. 

Interestingly, many adults who think they need less sleep still perform worse than if they actually got a full 8 hours’ worth. We’re poor judges of our own need for sleep, it seems.

2. Nap Often

If you aren’t getting all the sleep you need at home, then make time for naps. Learning to nap effectively can be a skill, one that can be learned just as any other skill. And it’s a useful one.

Taking the time to nap during breaks, taking quick power naps after lunch, and strategically distributing your naps to catch a few minutes here and a few minutes there can help you stay sharp, feel better, and stave off the effects of an exceptionally long work week.

The most important thing to do is to get into the habit of taking preparatory naps – that means napping when you aren’t actually sleepy, to prevent drowsiness from setting in.

3. Rest at Home

When you’re home, try to prioritize physical and mental rest:

  • Avoid sources of unnecessary anxiety
  • Keep artificial lights low
  • Minimize screen time

Aside from necessary chores and errands, try to make the most of your time at home by engaging in stress relieving rituals, such as:

  • Run a hot bath
  • Listen to a calming album
  • Practice meditation
  • Write (with a pen) about your day and your thoughts and worries

It’s important not only to sleep, but to find time for the mind to rest. A nurse’s life is often hectic with little room to stop and think, so take every moment you can spare to simply look inwards and calm yourself. Breathing exercises can be an excellent tool in this regard, as well.

4. Try to Incorporate Healthier Food

You’re much more likely to feel physically and mentally exhausted if you’re fueling yourself with junk food or fast food. While it’s often fast and cheap, the long-term effects of subsisting on unhealthy food are devastating.

Your eating habits aren’t just informed by the rest of your health lifestyle – it’s often the other way around. Eating the wrong foods can actively make you feel lazier and more tired, even if you have an active job. Almost 40 percent of nurses report eating fast food more than three times a week.

Making the switch to a healthier lifestyle is a drastic and difficult change, especially for someone with a very hectic work schedule. But it’s those with stressful work schedules that are most at risk for the negative downsides of unhealthy eating habits. Taking the time to make basic changes to the way you eat can have a massive impact on how you feel, and how you perform at work.

5. Stay Hydrated

It’s far too easy to forget to stay hydrated while on the job. When you’ve got a million other things going through your mind, one of the last things you’d worry about is whether or not you’ve had enough fluids that day.

However, not drinking enough can be a significant problem. Even mild dehydration can affect a person both cognitively and physically. Mild dehydration leads to more nursing fatigue, greater risk of headaches, and more.

How much water we need on a daily basis depends on our age, gender, size, and activity. Some need more water than others, but a good rule of thumb is to keep water on hand and consume around 2.7 liters for women, and 3.7 liters for men.

Keep in mind that some of our water intake is covered by our food and other beverages, such as coffee and juice. Productivity apps can help you track your fluid intake – you don’t need to track it every day, just find out how much you generally drink and supplement with a refillable water bottle.

6. Talk to Your Manager About Nursing Fatigue

Sometimes, when you’ve done all you can and still find yourself struggling to cope with your workload, your only option is to talk with your manager and discuss how you to better navigate your responsibilities at the hospital, so you can be a more effective nurse, and keep patients safe from harm.

It’s in a hospital’s own interest to listen to its staff and make appropriate choices, both to avoid potential life-threatening errors, and to maintain a motivated and productive workforce.

Reducing nursing fatigue is important to keep your body and mind sharp, reduce errors, improve patient well-being, and increase your success.