Tricks to help your body adjust to crazy work schedules

I am in an unusual work schedule right now. I’m a bus driver, and every day I drive a different route/schedule (basically covering work vacated by senior drivers who are off/sick/on vacation). The people in my ‘class’ operate on a rotation, with an employee having a start/end time that is about 45-60 minutes earlier each day.

This process continues, getting progressively earlier, until I hit the ‘earliest’ schedule, in my case this is something like 3:30AM. The problem is once this happens, the rotation RESETS, so the day after I had to start work at 3:30AM I’ll have to start work in the afternoon! The problem is that if you wake up at, say 2AM, you’re probably going to want to go to sleep proportionally early as well; between 5-8PM. But that means you’ll get up rather early the following day, even though you won’t have to start work for another 12-14 hours :smack: and rather early into your shift you’ll start feeling tired.

This is an odd system, but I know a lot of people out there work jobs with erratic/long hours and I’m sure someone has some ideas as to ways to be able to endure this transition. I won’t have to deal with this ‘flip’ very often, but at the same time I don’t want to get blindsided with it and end up having to book off sick because I’m simply too exhausted to drive a bus safely.

The first time I worked third shift (well, the first time in over 20 years), from midnight to 8am, I had to drive 14 miles due east, straight into the sun, every morning on my way home. Couldn’t sleep after that. It would take me until noon or 1pm to get to sleep, then I’d sleep until 8-9pm. After a while, I liked this and it became something in the 1-2pm to 9-10pm range. Because it was similar to a regular work day in that I’d be up for hours after getting off work on one side, and on the other, I’d have only a relatively short period between getting up and leaving for work.

True enough, I didn’t see a lot of sunlight, but running things that way meant that I could get out and about after work in the morning, during daylight hours, and do things like go the bank, post office, doctor etc, while they were open. Without having to take time off from work. I liked that a lot once I realized the usefulness of it!

I’m working a lot of nights now, with some mixed hours. I dunno how to explain it, but after a few years of moving my schedule around constantly, I’m not so much bothered by when I work and when I sleep. I can sleep during the day or night, I can sleep 4 hours one day and 10 the next. Heck, I’m up at 2am right now, probably going to bed within an hour or so, and I’ll be working until 5am both Saturday and Sunday mornings.

When I did that whole military gig I’d have to flip my sleep schedule around constantly. Some weeks I’d fly during the day, then the next night I’d fly, then I’d fly during the day again a bit later in the week. I have yet to find a really easy method except just plain pushing through it.

For 2.5 years in the USAF, my schedule was 4 days (8am-4pm), 4 swings (4pm - 12am*), 1 “off” (yeah right), 4 mids (12am - 8am), 3 off. For the last 3 months, it was changed, but I can’t remember if we started at mids or swings.

The “off” was because one shift ended at midnight, and you had 24 hours (one calendar day) before your next shift started.

The best way for many to adapt to the changing schedule was, after the last swing, to stay awake until about 8am. We often planned activities at the end of the shift. After the last mid, same thing. Do not go right to sleep - stay awake until as late as possible, and don’t oversleep when you do fall asleep. For me, one of the best ways to stay awake through mid shifts was to exercise from around 8:30pm - 10:00pm, and drinking lots of water. If I didn’t exercise, I found I would tire earlier in the shift. Also, holding off on caffeine until around 3:00am or 4:00am helped, as I wasn’t trying to trick my body through the caffeine crash by constantly recaffeinating.

*I know there is no such thing as “12am”, but it fit better than midnight.