Being based in Europe, often my work day for the flight home starts anywhere between 11 pm and 4 am on my body clock time. The ride to the airport is usually the time your head is starting to get heavy and your eyes a bit sore. A quick catnap on the crew bus and/or a coffee at the ubiquitous airport Starbucks will usually perk a crew member up for a few hours. The rush of the dinner service will keep you awake, as you have to be quick as the passengers want to get a few hours of sleep in.
When the service is done, you turn the lights down, sometimes warm the cabin a bit to aid the passengers sleep, and see them snuggle off as best they can. The only light in the cabin is a random reading light or the glow of a laptop or two. Window shades are down to keep out the impending sunrise and the crew speaks in hushed voices in the cabin. Most of know how difficult it is to get some sleep (particularly in economy) and try not to wake you too often.
What makes for a sleep inducing cabin for passengers starts to make life hell for a crew member trying to stay awake. Breaks are not given on all flights, some carriers give none , the one I work for , breaks are dependant on flight time and how full the cabin is. My flight last night was one of no break. I had landed in Washington at 445 am in the morning, and was due to work that evening to London. The rest of the crew had arrived the evening before.
Flights with no break mean certain behaviors will kick in. Magazines, puzzles and paperbacks will be dug our of our bags, and shared liberally. it is not uncommon for a magazine to be passed among an entire dozen member crew during the 'between' hours. Coffee and/or tea will be drunk continuously. Seats will be created in galleys, the jumpseats near doors usually have a strong draft near them, and passengers usually linger chatting or waiting for the toilets near the others. Galley containers are pulled down and made into seats, if we can scrounge up a spare blanket it will be perched on top. Some have perfected a way to flip the container so that it opens near the floor heaters and they in effect have a heated seat. Scarves and suit jackets come out to fight off the chill of sleepiness. Some will lean against turned on ovens to warm up, others make hot water bottles out of empty Evian size bottles to warm up.
Brave crew will sneak into empty passenger seats to read a magazine in comfort, or visit the cockpit where it is bright and the pilots are starved for conversation to keep them awake and alleviate boredom. After the initial comfort of our 'nests' wear off, the lure of a nap beckons. Some will pull a pillow and blanket into the lavs and get a minute or two of shut eye, some have crawled into the closets to close their eyes for a moment. Others get a nap in spite of themselves. I have seen people fall off galley containers and have their heads hit an oven as they keel over. Some I have heard snoring with a book in their laps. That is when the next pot of tea or coffee is made. Watches will be checked incessantly, eagerly awaiting the breakfast service service, in order to have something to do. Hair styles will be made over, relationships critiqued and layover purchases analyzed all while fighting the naps lure.
Soon enough ( not really) we will feed the passengers breakfast while wiping the sleep out of our eyes. More coffee and tea is drank, we will land and make our way home. We will all shower and crawl into bead as everyone else starts their day.....and finally give in to the lure of the nap.