Due to the current strains on healthcare, registered nurses are experiencing more fatigue than ever before, and travel nurses are no different. Travel nurses have to adapt to a new travel nursing assignment, city, and hospital every few months. These frequent changes can be stressful and tiresome, which can lead to increased nursing fatigue. Working long hours, especially night shift work, can lead to sleep deprivation and an increased risk for patient safety and medical errors. Addressing nurse fatigue helps promote safety for both patient care and nurses’ health. Let’s discuss some fatigue symptoms and review tips to prevent fatigue as a travel nurse.
What is Fatigue?
Fatigue is overwhelming exhaustion that affects your daily life. You may feel an intense urge to fall asleep or may not feel rested after you wake up. Most nurses experience fatigue at some point in their careers due to working long 12-hour shifts in a high-stress environment accompanied by a lack of sleep and physical and emotional strains.
It is important to recognize symptoms of fatigue to know if you are experiencing them. Some physical symptoms include:
Appetite loss, stomach upset
Fatigue can also cause mental exhaustion, such as:
Difficulty staying motivated
What Causes Travel Nurses to be Fatigued?
For travel nurses, burnout and compassion fatigue are common due to lack of resources and staffing shortages, they are becoming more prevalent. Burnout is a term used for lack of interest in your work, which can happen to anyone, and isn’t unique to travel nursing. Compassion fatigue consists of negative thoughts from helping others for your career. Compassion fatigue encompasses burnout and impacts your emotions, often leading to anxiety or depression. It’s important to recognize and acknowledge these symptoms and seek help if you experience them.
American Nurses Association Recommendations
The American Nurses Association (ANA) promotes occupational safety by providing a recommendations to prevent nursing fatigue document. ANA recommendations are for both nurses and employers. Some suggestions include nurses recognizing the warning signs of drowsy driving and understanding medication side effects and how they may impact fatigue. A few recommendations for employers include avoiding mandatory or voluntary overtime, limiting work week hours to 40 hours or less, and many more. It’s important to review and understand these recommendations regarding healthcare worker fatigue and fatigue risk management.
Tricks to Prevent Fatigue
Now that we have reviewed the symptoms and ANA recommendations, let’s discuss some tricks to prevent fatigue as a travel nurse or as a staff nurse.
Get Quality Sleep
It is recommended to get an average of seven to nine hours of sleep each night. However, there’s more to sufficient sleep than just getting in the recommended hours. It’s important to develop quality sleep habits. Quality habits include minimizing screen time and avoiding bright lights. If you work the night shift and have trouble sleeping during the day, consider purchasing black-out curtains or a sleep mask to block the sunlight.
In addition, limit or stop your caffeine intake several hours before going to bed. Stop caffeine intake in the early afternoon, around 1 or 2 p.m., so you aren't stimulated before bed. It is also important to keep a regular sleep schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up around the same time even on your days off. Even if you work the night shift, try to stay up on the nights you are off to keep the same schedule.
Exercise and Improve Your Mental Health
Exercising not only improves your physical health but also your mental well-being. It can help prevent muscle soreness and loosen tension. Exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous–you can walk, ride a bicycle, or practice yoga. Also, limit exercise several hours prior to your bedtime. Exercise causes your body to release endorphins, which can prevent you from falling asleep. Since travel nurses work long shifts, exercise on your days off instead of before or after work.
Practicing good mental health isn’t just limited to hospital staff nurses or critical care nurses. Everyone who works in healthcare should care for their own mental health, and this is especially true for travel nurses. To strengthen your mental fitness, try meditation, learn a new skill or hobby, and take time to communicate with others. Communicating with your friends and loved ones is another way to stay connected and promotes mental well-being.
Practice self-care activities to reduce stress and fatigue symptoms. Self-care can be anything you enjoy doing to relax and take your mind off your worries or stressors. Some relaxation ideas include booking a day at the spa, reading your favorite book, listening to music, taking a bath, or walking at a local park.
Self-care also involves taking care of your mental health, and knowing and setting your limits. If your manager asks you to work an extra shift, don’t feel obligated to change your schedule and accept the shift.
Don’t Work Successive Shifts and Plan Your Shifts
Most travel nurses, especially night shift workers, like to work their shifts in a row. However, studies show that working successive 12-hour shifts can lead to more workplace fatigue. Next time you are making schedule requests, try to include a maximum of two days in a row. Some nurses try to work one day off and one day on, however, that may disrupt your sleep. Experiment with what schedule works best for you to help reduce fatigue and maximize your sleep.
While most healthcare facilities limit the number of hours you work, this is not always the case for travel nurses. Travel nurses oftentimes are contracted to work more than 40 hours per week. However, the ANA recommends not working more than 12 hours during a shift and no more than 40 hours per week. So next time you're offered an overtime shift, take this into consideration before accepting. Also, during your shifts, make sure to plan for and take quick breaks and lunch. Breaks can give you a quick time to decompress and combat fatigue.
Have a Support System
Travel nursing can be exhausting, stressful, and rewarding at the same time. It’s important to have a support system both inside and outside of work. Talk to your friends or coworkers about fatigue and burnout. Venting or opening up about your feelings and stressors can help ease some of these symptoms. Your friend, family member, or coworker may be feeling the same and each of you can support one another.
If you feel like you’re experiencing burnout, stress, or fatigue, don’t be afraid to ask for help from a licensed professional. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been proven to improve mental health and help manage stress and fatigue. Also, there are many local support groups that offer free counseling and resources for nurse fatigue or burnout support.
Eat a healthy and balanced diet
Make healthy food choices to ensure that you have energy and remain in good health. Nurses often skip meals or grab quick unhealthy meals due to busy shifts without adequate breaks. If you aren’t getting the necessary amount of calories, vitamins, and nutrients, it can negatively affect your well-being and impact your body. It’s important to incorporate fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates, and protein into your diet. Also, try to limit sugary or carbohydrate-rich foods, as they can cause crashes in your energy levels. Instead, opt for more protein-rich snacks, like almonds or tuna, as they provide more stable energy throughout the day.
If you feel like you already eat a healthy diet and still have overwhelming fatigue, consider going to your healthcare provider. They can check for vitamin deficiencies such as B12, iron, or vitamin D, which can cause fatigue symptoms. Also, fatigue can sometimes be an indicator of cardiovascular disease. So again, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider if you're experiencing symptoms.
Travel nurses can experience fatigue at any point in their careers. It’s vital to recognize the symptoms and make any necessary changes to combat fatigue. Try some of these tricks today and see if they help! While it’s important to understand fatigue risk management, make sure to talk to your healthcare provider if you continue to experience symptoms.
Amanda Marten NP-C, MSN has been a certified nurse practitioner for over three years. With eight years of nursing experience, she has worked in a variety of specialties including urgent care, travel nursing, post-surgical, and intensive care.
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