Nurse fatigue is chronic fatigue, and as such could have any number of occupation-based names: paramedic-, fireman-, and air traffic control–fatigue. Bringing it back to a medical theme, it could also be called intern fatigue. It is, more generally, the kind of fatigue that goes with the job and effects nearly everyone who works in a given field where the hours rotate around the clock, commitment is on-call 24/7, overtime is mandatory, and double-shifts are routinely available because of short staffing. Age is another risk factor, from both extremes of the spectrum: youth, bringing with it family raising responsibilities and (if possible) a more active social life; and age, bringing with it less reservoirs of energy, flexibility, and enthusiasm.
Like any kind of fatigue, nurses suffering from it are at risk for a host of problems: slower reaction time, an inability to concentrate, reduced problem-solving ability, and a resultant increase in mistakes and close calls — both for themselves and their patients (NANN, 2008).
Sleep deprivation is one problem (Rogers, 2008). Many people who start working nights imagine that sleep can be divided up as long as the total per 24 hours is eight or so. But if this were the case, people would routinely wake up at 2 am to go grocery shopping or work out at the gym, return home at 4 am, and sleep for another two or three hours. We don’t, because sleep is not a quantity. It is a process. It happens to take us about eight hours.
Most people have a hard enough time just adjusting to a regularly scheduled night-shift. But given regular hours and discipline, it is possible to adjust and to thrive. But nursing doesn’t always (or even usually) offer that assurance. You have to take your sleep as you find it, and center your existence around getting as much as possible. That means passing up overtime and social life both. This is something most people either cannot or will not do. So they opt to deal with the fatigue for as long as they can.
Rise and shine!
NANN Board of Directors. (2008). Bedside registered staff, nurse shift length, fatigue, and impact on patient safety. National Association of Neonatal Nurses. Retrieved from http://www.nann.org/pdf/810ps3044.pdf
Rogers, A. (2008). The effects of fatigue and sleepiness on nurse performance and patient safety. Patient Safety and Quality: An Evidence-Based Handbook for Nurses. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (U.S.) Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21328747