- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 21, 2006

Dolly Parton famously bemoaned the 9-to-5 workday as “enough to drive you crazy if you let it.”

Tell that to night owls, the men and women who work the unconventional shifts that make everything from doughnuts to health care an around-the-clock option. Today’s world features 24-hour gyms, supermarkets and pharmacies, not to mention the doctors, police officers and others who put in the longest of hours.

Americans are a resourceful lot, though, and some District-area residents have tweaked their lives to make their schedules work.

Gregory Clay, a sportswriter with the Knight Ridder News Service, leaves work around 2 a.m., but at that hour, he can’t convince his body it’s time to sleep. The 48-year-old District resident lets his television remote ease him toward the bedroom.

“I get home, and I have all these channels to choose from. There’s always something on. … I have all the ESPNs,” Mr. Clay says.

He has had enough time to adjust to his schedule, but it still isn’t perfect.

“The biggest problem I have now is being alert during the day,” says Mr. Clay, who rises between noon and 1 p.m. most days. “If I wake up before a certain time, I have a headache.”

When his schedule allows for a full weekday off, he does his best to tackle all his traditional chores.

Mr. Clay is single, which makes his work schedule much easier.”It’s probably tougher working nights if you have a wife and three or four children. … I basically can control my own life,” he says.

When one of his female friends visits the District, Mr. Clay does what he calls “creative juggling.”

“I always tell her, ‘When you fly in, fly in late Friday night. That way you won’t be alone that much,’” he says.

Desi Griffin, a clinical psychologist and director of the Washington Hospital Center’s outpatient behavioral health service, says unconventional schedules cause “lots of problems” beyond sleep issues, such as marital conflicts and time-management issues.

“In our culture, we have certain things we value, like having dinner together. If they work the evening shift, they never have that,” she says.

Society has more night-shift workers now based on the populace’s collective demands.

“It’s the price we pay for convenience. Twenty years ago, the grocery stores closed at nine,” she says.

Some nighttime shifts are better than others, she adds. A nurse working three 12-hour shifts in a row, for example, can recuperate better than someone on a strictly unconventional schedule, she says.

One of the best ways to prepare for night-shift living is to ask friends and family for help — and patience.

“Let the people in your life know you don’t mean to be harsh,” she says.

If family dinners aren’t possible, make the breakfast table the place to catch up on family affairs.

Germantown resident Mike Jakaitis has been working the late shift since 2002. Mr. Jakaitis, 35, an editor with WTOP-AM, heads home sometime after 1 a.m. most nights.

The newlywed uses his schedule to hit the gym around 10 a.m., a time when most of the machines are available.

“If you go around 5 at night, it’s really crowded, and you add a half-hour to your workout,” he says, adding that he completes his supermarket shopping around noon.

The schedule also enables him to commute into the city in less than 30 minutes because traffic is light when it’s time to go to work.

“When I worked 9 to 5, I’d leave an hour and a half to get in,” Mr. Jakaitis says.

His job is flexible enough that he can switch shifts with a colleague or take the occasional day off.

“I have to burn a vacation day to act like a normal couple,” he says.

There’s the rub for Mr. Jakaitis: finding enough time to spend with his teacher bride.

“Usually, I see her on Saturday mornings before I go in and Sundays, providing she watches football,” he says, adding that the last part is one of his wife’s favorite phrases.

It’s even hard to make contact during the day because she’s wrapped up with her students when he has time to speak on the phone.

Having an understanding wife makes the struggle easier, he says.

“When I was single, I’d go out with some girls, and the schedule got in the way,” he says.

The reality of keeping a marriage afloat while working in his field scares him.

“You see a lot of people on their second marriages,” he says.

Clint McGown, general manager of the Glover Park Washington Sports Club, understands the need to have certain shops and services available 24/7. He used to work nights himself and lift weights during the day.

Mr. McGown recently opened his health club around the clock, and so far, he has seen a steady stream of clients.

“I get a lot of students in my particular area, and they have crazy schedules,” Mr. McGown says.

His clients range in age and sex — the common refrain is the number of insomniacs who hope running on a treadmill for a while will coax the sandman into their bedrooms.

Mr. McGown reports that 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. are his club’s busiest night hours, and business picks up again around 4:30 a.m. or so.

“When we opened up at 5 a.m., we had a line out of the door of about 40 people,” he says.

One thing has changed with the new, improved hours.

“The characters come out at night … people come out in their pajamas,” he says.

Nighttime also yields more than a few car crashes, giving nurses, such as Alexandria resident Christine Chaney plenty to do.

Ms. Chaney, 34, starts her 12-hour shifts at George Washington Hospital at 7 p.m.

The single mother of two says she doesn’t mind working at night.

“My entire life, mornings are the hardest for me. The coffee finally kicks in at 10 a.m.,” says Ms. Chaney, whose duties in the hospital’s intensive care unit include monitoring blood pressure and heart rhythms as well as inserting breathing tubes in patients.

Her unorthodox shift work means food shopping around the time most people are powering up their work computers, but it also causes some sleep-disturbance problems.

“In the spring and summertime, people start mowing their lawns between 10 and 2, and I’m awake through it all,” she says.

Juggling parental duties is another headache, but Ms. Chaney makes the sacrifices when needed or accepts her father’s open invitation to help lighten her load.

Mr. Clay offers some tips for those about to start an unconventional work schedule.

“If you’re not used to that schedule, try to get a good night sleep the first week and take No-Doz or some kind of stimulant [while at work]. … At some point, your biorhythms will click in and your body clock will betray you. You’ll be sluggish,” he says. “It takes a while to get adjusted.”

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