Roxytiki: I work a similar schedule, less time off in blocks, quicker change overs, 12 hour shifts as well. (We actually want to migrate to the schedule you describe.) My tips – you need to be organized.
Plan meals and groceries so you don’t need to pick anything up on your work days, plan easy, quick meals to make so when you come home (if you eat with your SO, I do) on days you’re good to go as soon as you can be. I cook at home on my days off, they tend to be more elaborate meals. FI often cooks when I’m on days. I cook when I’m on nights. I sleep 8 – 2 or 8 – 3 on night shift. My Fiance comes home early on my nights so we get to do his dinner and my breakfast together. We grocery shop the day before my long stretch (3 days or 3 nights) starts.
Stay on top of chores. I do a little each night, Fiance does his fair share. I save laundry until my switchover day from nights to days – I get up because the laundry has to get done.
Find exercise you can work into your work days. Stairs, walking, cycle to work, yoga, whatever. I swim at least a half hour a day. I can do it both when I wake up on nights and when I come home after days. You can save longer workouts for days off. But it helps to do a little each day.
Create a bedtime ritual. It’s like having kids. Have a routine that signals ‘bed’ to your body, even if ‘bed’ is sometimes in the morning. Take a shower, brush your teeth, lather lotion, read, meditate, whatever. Just do the same thing everyday. I have a fan for white noise (very handy if you live in a building. It cancels out some of the living noise from everyone else.) The last thing I do is turn it on. It’s my final cue for sleep. I also have the window completely blacked out. We call the bedroom the bat cave because you can’t tell if its day or night out when you’re in there its so dark. Sometimes blackout blinds aren’t enough, and watch for artificial light sources – the glow of the alarm clock, buttons/lights on things like fans. I have a sony ipod alarm clock that allows the display to be dimmed to nothing. And the fan light is blocked by a piece of fabric. It is pitch black in there even at noon on a sunny June day.
In the winter I take vitamin D drops. Because I’ll drive home in the dark, go to bed, wake up and it’ll be dark already.
Eat well during nights. It’s very easy for me to slip into snacking on carbs, carbs and more carbs in the middle of the night. I do much better when I remember to pack protein for snacks.
Make plans for your days off. This helps me feel like I’m not missing out on life when I’m working on weekends… I’ll make a day of appointments massage, hair cut, manicure/pedicure for one day. Another day I’ll go skiing or biking with a friend on the same shift. I’ll take my dad out for lunch another day (he’s retired). And I let myself have a day on the couch watching bad PVR tv and lounging in my PJs. On weekends where Fiance and I are both off we try to ‘do’ things that aren’t chores.
I used to work a terrible schedule, shorter shifts but 8 in a row. I felt like I never got to see the rest of the world. This schedule is much better. I’ve been working shift for 5 years now. I’m not sure I can ever go back to 9-5. I’m on straight day shifts for the summer and it’ll be interesting to see how I cope. I love nights.