Proper nursing education is the first step to reducing the problem of nurse fatigue.

When your welfare or life is in someone else’s hands, you want that someone to be alert. That’s obvious, and yet nurses—from RNs to nurse practitioners—are at constant risk of fatigue due to their stressful jobs and demanding work schedules. Numerous studies have shown this to be a serious problem, including a recent study by the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing that concluded fatigue can “result in expensive job turnover, and can negatively affect patient care.”*

To prevent nurse fatigue, we need better nursing education centered on the causes and consequences of fatigue and better strategies to reduce fatigue. Here are a few facts about the problem, and a few tips on how to address it.

What Is Fatigue?

Fatigue is not sleepiness. It’s a feeling of persistent exhaustion or weariness that makes it difficult to focus on and/or perform tasks. Occasional, mild fatigue is common for everyone and no reason for alarm; but persistent fatigue can lead to serious problems for nurses, jeopardize a patient’s safety, and put employers at risk.

Fatigue can cause:

  • Slowed reaction time
  • Medication errors
  • Inability to convey empathy
  • Errors of omission
  • Compromised problem-solving
  • Failure to rescue
  • Poor-quality patient care
  • Poor teamwork
  • Lapses in attention to detail

What Causes Fatigue?

The primary cause of all fatigue—in nurse practitioners and others—is inadequate sleep. Many nurses struggle to get enough sleep because their work schedules often interfere with the natural pattern of nightly rest. In addition, the stresses of a nursing career can make sleep difficult.

What Can Be Done to Reduce Nurse Fatigue?

Both nurses and those who employ them can take steps to reduce the problem of fatigue.

Nurses can:

  • Prioritize sleep, making every effort to get enough despite work schedules.
  • Participate in physical activities outside of work such as jogging, walking, weight training, or swimming.
  • Keep a regular eating schedule and eat healthy foods such as whole grains, fruits, nuts, and lean proteins.
  • Stay hydrated and avoid the overconsumption of caffeine.
  • Maintain an active social and/or family life.
  • Avoid medications that can cause drowsiness, and keep alcohol consumption to a minimum.
  • Take breaks and lunch in a quiet area, if possible.
  • Monitor personal health for signs of fatigue.
  • If fatigued, make an effort to take time off to recharge.v

Nurse employers can:

  • Design work schedules that reduce the risk of fatigue, limiting scheduling changes and using 12-hour shifts judiciously.
  • Limit the number of consecutive days nurses can work, particularly if nurses are working 12-hour shifts.
  • Maintain adequate staffing levels.
  • Not require mandatory overtime and limit the use of voluntary overtime, even for recent nursing school graduates.
  • Schedule staff meetings so they don’t require anyone to get up early or stay up late.
  • Provide staff education on the risks of nurse fatigue and the importance of sleep.
  • When reviewing negative outcomes, investigate the possible role of fatigue.

How an MSN Program Can Help You Reduce Nurse Fatigue

If you want to help nurses and their employers reduce the incidences of fatigue, one of the best choices you can make is to become a nurse educator. And one of the best ways to get a nurse educator job is to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Whether you’ve been working as a nurse for years or are just entering the profession, a master’s degree in nursing with a focus on nursing education can help you gain the skills you need to address a wide range of health and nursing issues, including nurse fatigue.

For many nurses and other professionals, going to nursing school can seem unmanageable, given work schedules and other responsibilities. But online MSN programs can eliminate these obstacles and make it possible to earn your MSN degree, even if you’re working full time. That’s because the online education platform provides the flexibility and convenience you need to complete your coursework from home, on a schedule that allows you to manage your family, social, and professional commitments. Plus, a number of online master’s in nursing programs allow you to go straight from RN to BSN to MSN, helping you earn your master of science in nursing faster.

Earning a master’s in nursing online can put you in position to be a successful nurse educator. It’s a great first step if you want to address issues such as nurse fatigue.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program with a specialization in Nursing Education. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


*A. Witkoski, D. Sloane, L. Aiken, The Longer the Shifts For Hospital Nurses, the Higher the Levels of Burnout and Patient Dissatisfaction, National Center for Biotechnology Information, on the Internet at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3608421.

†D. Kelton, E. Kingsley, C. Davis, D. Miller, Running on Empty? The Facts About Nursing Fatigue, Lippincott Nursing Center, on the Internet at www.nursingcenter.com/journalarticle?Article_ID=1693539.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, 1-800-621-7440, www.hlcommission.org.

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