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Combatting nigh shift fatigue

Photo: Health Times Magazine
From an early age, registered nurse, Emma Selby, loved the idea of caring for people, along with the diversity that came with nursing in the 21st century.

Enjoying a diverse career, working in critical care both in the metro and remote regions, Ms Selby has spent most of that time working a combinations of mornings, afternoons and nights.

“The majority of hospital-based nursing is shift work round the clock,” says Ms Selby.

The combination of a heavy workload with irregular hours can wreak havoc with both mental and physical health.

“The workloads of nurses can be large,” says Ms Selby.

“Working regular night shifts definitely plays a part in physical fatigue

“Lack of sleep also plays a part in effecting mental health.”
Even so, it’s par for the course for nurses who are expected to work a variety of shifts.

“I have always worked a combination of days/nights and weekends.

“You don’t get a choice of nights shifts – it is an expectation of your workplace.

“I commenced them from my graduate year 10 years ago.”

It often chops and changes too, which can have a detrimental impact on mental health, and bring on burnout.

“Sadly, burnout is a huge part of nursing these days.

“It can be very hard to recognise in the early years of nursing. The workload given to nursing staff can be huge.

“The lack of sleep plays heavily on you during night duty.

“The fatigue affects your mood and general wellbeing.

“Not to mention the risk of human error relating to your fatigue during night shifts.”

Which is why it’s essential for nurses to take extra care of their physical and mental health.

“This unfortunately takes time and years of experience to recognise and also manage,” says Ms Selby.

“I personally ensure that I take all meal breaks allocated to me.

“Nurses are notorious for skipping breaks due to workload.”

For Ms Selby, shifting to casual work has also helped.

“I now have two small children and no longer wish to do night duty.

“Great initiatives such as Upaged help to significantly combat the daily struggle of work /life balances, allowing nurses to have the power and to self-manage their workload – and also avoid night shift.”

Ms Selby says it’s also crucial to get enough sleep.

“I actively try to wind down mind on drive home from work – to prevent thinking about work and help to get to sleep

“I also recommend physical exercise, such as yoga and healthy eating.

For Candice Cannon, working 12 hour shifts in a busy hospital, but during the day as well as nightshifts, left her feeling disconnected from family, friends and the ‘real world’.

“Whenever I have my nightshift block commencing I always make sure I go to the beach or get some family and friend catch up time beforehand,” says Ms Cannon.

“I also do adult ballet class on my days off for fun and to balance the rigors of an exhausting work schedule, with doing things I love outside of my job.”

Ms Cannon also suggests maintaining a routine.

“I maintain a routine when I’m on nightshift, which can be up to four nights in a row, that includes walking my dog to decompress, a hot shower and a bit of breakfast before I head to bed to rest for the next night duty.

“I always make sure that I limit screen time when I hop into bed from nightshifts as it keeps me awake during the day instead of getting the rest I need.”

And the end of the day though, the effort required to maintain positive mental and physical health is worth it, says Ms Selby.


“To be the best nurse I attempt to achieve all of these things!

“Despite the fatigue of night shift, shift work as a whole can be very family friendly.

“The variation in hours means you can achieve work/life balance.”


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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications ( and a children's author.