Given the continued shortage of nurses nationwide, it is common practice for hospitals and clinics to request that their nursing staff work overtime. While working overtime can be an effective solution to this shortage, it also can present numerous  problems. 

Although many nurses enjoy the challenge and compensation associated with long working hours, researchers have indicated that the practice can be problematic in some cases, especially when nurses engage in overtime on a routine basis. Nurses run the risk of being burned out, tired, and stressed which significantly affects the quality of care.

To mitigate these problems, nurses are advised to avoid these common mistakes when working overtime.

1. Compromise Sleep

If you know you’re going to work for longer hours, then store enough energy. Lack of sleep affects your mood, focus, and judgement., It’s important for nurses to make sleep a priority at home. Nurses must teach their bodies how to properly fall asleep for long periods of time without any interruptions. Avoid bright screens within one to two hours of your bedtime. Say no to late-night television.

2. Overdo Caffeine

Caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, tea, or cola, help maintain alertness during a long day or night shift. Taking about 20 to 35 minutes to improve an individual’s level of alertness, caffeine is an effective method for offsetting fatigue. However, it is important not to overdo caffeinated products, as drinking too much coffee can have its own issues. What you can do is hydrate as much as possible. Water is your friend while working overtime.

3. Skipping break time

It is easy to overlook taking a break, even one as small as 10 minutes, but you must take them. Breaks help recharge our batteries. If you need to catch a catnap, do it, but don’t sleep at the bedside; this is unprofessional and does not instill confidence in the patient or patient’s family. Go to the break room, or the lounge where there is likely to be a couch. A 10 to 20-minute nap helps sharpen the mind, making the person able to perform even better than those who don’t nap.

4. Sweet and Salty Snacks

During a quick snack break, skip the vending machine candy bar and overly-salted potato chips. The candy’s sugar will lead to a sugar crash, making you even sleepier, and excessive salt will force your skin to retain water which gives you a puffy, tired appearance. Opt instead for a protein-based meal, such as grilled chicken, shrimp or turkey in a salad or with greens. Choose to snack on cheese sticks with low-sodium nuts.

5. Leave Out Your Work Area

Organizing your work area puts you in control. Some nurses complain about feeling overwhelmed, not just from the patient load, but also from the chaos of their work environment. This is part of your duty as a nurse, which is to keep the patient environment as safe and pleasant as possible. This also helps put both the patient and his family at ease.

There are more important activities and self-care tips you can follow to make sure you stay sharp and fresh when you take on overtime work. How well you adjust to night-shift or overtime duties will depend on your attitude, your preparation, and your individual routine. If you want more tips on how to win your nursing career, listen to my Nurse X’s and O’s podcast, or read on my blogs.