Studies have long documented how fatigue in nurses creates a decline in performance, particularly working beyond a conventional eight hour shift. But a new study, published in the January 2014 issue of the American Journal of Critical Care, found an interesting new side effect related to overworked nurses. As it turns out, fatigued nurses are more likely to speak up about concerns that they may have made a wrong decision regarding a patient's care. This implies that excessive fatigue from long hours without breaks, under staffing, mandatory overtime or working overnight shifts may increase feelings of guilt or inadequacy about giving care as well as increase work-related stress. Thus, it's critical for nurses to learn a few skills to avoid the pitfalls of exhaustion.
Just Say No
It seems like there are always extra shifts that need to be filled no matter where you work, and sometimes unit managers or coworkers can put a lot of pressure on you to pick up extra hours you don't really want or need. The best advice is to "just say no" if you feel like you're reaching your limits. It's the best advice, but also the toughest to follow, unfortunately. But if you work yourself to exhaustion and get sick or burned out, it doesn't help anyone in the long run, especially yourself. Hold to your boundaries and only work extra hours when you really need to and when you're adequately rested and prepared to handle the additional stress.
Give Yourself a Break — Literally
Anyone who has worked as a nurse knows how hard it can be to just take a few minutes to get off the floor for a short break, but even five minutes can sometimes rejuvenate you and clear your mind. Insist on taking your lunch breaks and, if you work overnight shifts and feel that overwhelming tiredness that comes on around 5 am, take 15 minutes to close your eyes — without sleeping — to give you a second wind to get through the rest of your shift. You'd be amazed at what a boost it can give you on top of that umpteenth cup of coffee.
Making the Best of It
If you followed all these tips and you're still struggling to get through a shift because you're so tired, resist the temptation to try to rush through things just to be done. Take a few moments to reevaluate all your medication calculations and charting details. Don't be afraid to ask another nurse to verify a drug dosage calculation or even to give you a helping hand if it seems like she's caught up on her work. Remember, you can always return the favor at another time when your coworker is struggling through a shift.
Let's face it, fatigue in nurses is a pretty common occurrence that happens to all of us at one time or another despite what we do to prevent it. Make sure to allow adequate sleep time, and don't overextend yourself with overtime if you wish to keep your fatigue to a minimum.
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