Travel nurses work a lot of long and late hours. Seventeen hour night shifts can happen, but working that many hours means that you can only get a total of seven hours sleep in a twenty-four hour period, and that’s only if you sleep in a bed at work.
The National Sleep Foundation, who celebrate their twenty-fifth anniversary this year, issued a recommended sleep chart. It suggests that adults between the ages of 18-64 years old require about 7-9 hours of daily sleep.
Not getting an appropriate amount of sleep can lead to sleep debt, a condition where you forget what “being truly rested” feels like and to further complicate matters, stimulants like coffee, soda, and energy drinks as well as alarm clocks and external lights—including the ones from electronic devices and daylight for night shift workers—interfere with our natural sleep/wake cycle.
Medical facilities task nurses to get enough sleep, arrive at work well-rested and take breaks, and studies have linked fatigue to errors, declines in short-term memory and an inability to learn. These studies liken the performance of someone awake for at least 17 hours to that of a drunk person.
While medical facilities draft policies to combat work fatigue and sleep deprivation, and the government does what it can with its national labor law mandates, the majority of the responsibility falls on individual nurses. Permanent station nurses institute “buddy systems” where they check each other’s work and start carpools to reduce drive time, but travel nurses aren’t often afforded these same luxuries: they’re temporary employees. So how do you combat this same fatigue and sleep deprivation as a travel nurse?
Tips for combatting nurse fatigue as a travel nurse:
- Stay in touch with close friends and family members as often as you can but at least once a week
- Connect with other travel nurses—you may work another assignment with them or even schedule assignments together in the future
- Eat right and exercise regularly
- Join a small studio fitness gym—they often don’t have membership fees, and you get to work out in smaller groups
- Take small breaks and conduct deep breathing exercises
How to get better sleep:
- Stick to a sleep schedule, even on off days
- Institute a relaxing bedtime ritual—I like reading before bed
- Again, exercise—your body will feel like it did something during the day
- Make sure your bedroom has the ideal temperature, sound, and light. If you work night shift, you’ll have to block out daylight, and I’ve found that aluminum foil over your windows works great
- Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows
- Limit caffeine and don’t drink alcohol, it gives you a false sleepiness
- Turn off all your electronics before going to bed—that text or instant message can wait until tomorrow
The bottom line is that nurse self-care is just as important as patient care. You have to be able to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else.