Just finished up a four month stint on night shift at work, and I started thinking about the concept of "shift work" in general -- the ways that organizations required to man certain positions 24/7 distribute the work. At my company, we have four "teams"; you have 12 hour shifts either 3 or 4 days a week, and the supervisors shift between night shift and day shift every four months. The problem, or advantage, is that you pretty much work the same days of the week.
In the submarine world, I had experience with two different kinds of shiftwork. Anytime an entire department is involved in ongoing work, we would just normally divide up into thirds, and work eight hour shifts; you'd stay on the same shift until the job was done. During new construction, the nukes would have to be in continuous shift work for about four or five months during pre-core testing. With about 45 nukes, I divided up into three teams of fifteen; there was enough "slop"that guys could normally get one day off every two weeks. It pretty much sucked.
When I was last in the shipyard, the Virginia was able to work out a four shift rotation; this pretty much meant everyone was busy the entire eight hour shift, and it was harder for them to arrange child care schedules and such since they rotated.
The most well-known shift work schedule is the "prototype" schedule -- "prototypes" being the six month hands-on training at land-based reactors that nukes go to after Nuke School. The first two times I went there were four crews; the staff hours were as follows in each 28 day rotation:
"Swings": 1600-2400 Wednesday through Tuesday
"Mids": 0000-0800 Friday through Thursday
"Days": 0800-1600 Saturday through Friday
So, basically you got 48 hours off between Swings and Mids, and again between Mids and Days. Then, you got 120 hours off between Days and Mids, in what was traditionally called a "four off". Then you started the rotation again. Students had an additional four hours each day -- four hours before shift on Swings and Mids, and four hours after shift on Days.
The big transition there was between Swings and Mids -- for students, you only had 44 hours to shift your sleeping schedule. Most people would end up partying through the whole night after work on Tuesday night, then sleeping through the day. In Idaho, this was traditionally called an "LDS" party -- "Last Day of Swings", and also in allusion to the dominant religion of the area (I hadn't joined the Church yet, so I celebrated with my friends).
In the early 90s, they realized that this four shift schedule really sucked, especially for the staff. Students could be made to put up with anything for six months, but if you're stuck there for 2-3 years, it gets old fast. To improve staff quality of life, they added a fifth shift; basically, this meant that after Days, you came in an did "T-week" from Monday through Friday of the next week, and then took your four off. You basically did all your required training then, along with whatever odd jobs they could throw at you. I did that for two years as a Shift Engineer at NPTU Charleston from '93-'95; I found that I couldn't switch my sleeping schedules quite as easily as I could when I was younger. Now that I'm in my 40s, and was shifting between mids and days twice a week... let's just say I'm glad to be going back to day shift...