Nurses and midwives handling fatigue

Celeste Pinney RM & Elle Brown RN
In this edition of the newsletter we’re discussing strategies to handle fatigue and exhaustion.

Handling Fatigue

Welcome to the Nurse & Midwife Support newsletter. In this issue we’re talking about how to beat fatigue in nursing and midwifery.

At last year’s Australian College of Nursing (ACN)’s National Nursing Forum, we spoke to a nurse who said she enjoyed our newsletters. We asked if there was a topic she would like us to explore, and she replied fatigue. It wasn’t surprising. This is an issue nurses and midwives often call us to talk about. The disruption we’ve all experienced in recent years has only heightened feelings of exhaustion.

ACN research published in 2022 found that two-thirds of nurses had experienced fatigue and/or burnout. A 2022 study found similar rates in midwives. The high rates of fatigue are not surprising given the extreme stress and disruptive schedules common in these professions. Unfortunately, fatigue is associated with high turnover rates. Collectively, we need to learn how to manage and prevent exhaustion to maintain the health of our selves and our workforce.

Fatigue can undermine your connection to others, capacity for joy and healthy sleep patterns. There’s no single silver bullet solution that will work for everybody, but there are a lot of different strategies you can try to tackle fatigue and support yourself to increase your energy.

A 2024 qualitative study of shiftworkers found that common recommendations to deal with fatigue included both personal and structural changes. In this newsletter, we’ll look at some of the changes you can make in your personal routine to improve your rest and manage exhaustion, but we also want to emphasise that we know that shift workers need to be supported by employers to maximise their health and wellbeing. As the authors of the study concluded:

“This study identified that there is insufficient training regarding sleep and shift work management strategies, potentially leading to occupational health and safety concerns. Further education and training to equip staff with the necessary information, training and guidance to staff on how to reduce fatigue risk is required.” — Booker et al, Sleep fatigue and management strategies: How nurses, midwives and paramedics cope with their shift work schedules — a qualitative study

We encourage employers to identify opportunities to help their workforce to manage exhaustion and implement policies that prevent fatigue. If your employer has a program or policy you find helpful, let us know — email [email protected].

So what can you do to prevent and treat fatigue in your own life? We have some ideas

In this issue

Why am I so tired?

Elle Brown examines the factors that can contribute to fatigue and recommends some ways to inject some energy into your life. Your life stage, physical health and even the season can influence your fatigue level. Planning to use your leave, doing some financial planning and pursuing further education/qualifications can be powerful weapons against fatigue.

Fight fatigue in nursing and midwifery

Most recommendations to improve sleep hygiene don’t take into account the rotating schedules shift workers are dealing with. Celeste explores how you can advocate for a roster that supports rest and the barriers that might prevent us from setting a boundary to protect our rest. Celeste also discusses sleep hygiene tips for people coming off the night shift.

Podcast: Healthy eating through fatigue

Celeste speaks to nutritionist Audra Starkey, also known as The Healthy Shift Worker. They discuss holistic changes shift workers can make to their routines to manage the demands of their profession. Audra has some wonderful suggestions for getting active and moving to enhance your sleep quality, how and when to eat on night shift and how to choose mindful and intuitive eating with quick-to-prepare healthy suggestions for meals.

Rest up

We wish you increased energy, restful sleep and work both challenging and satisfying. If you would like to talk more about any of these fatigue busting hints, our team of fellow nurses and midwives is here. Reach out to 1800 667 877 or email us any time — free, confidential, nationwide, 24/7.