Just thinking about Dave and Leslie Loukianow's schedule can make one dizzy.

Dave, a Canadian Pacific Railway employee, works Saturdays through Wednesdays from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.; the rest of his time is spent tending to the Loukianows' two sons, ages 2 and 6. Leslie works as an Internet consultant whenever her husband is at home. "It's brutal at times," admits Leslie, of Glade, British Columbia.Whether by design or by default, more dual-income couples are working opposite shifts and splitting the child-care responsibilities.

According to a 1996 study by University of Maryland sociology professor Harriet Presser, one out of five couples with preschoolers don't work a five-day-a-week daytime schedule. Instead, one-third of those parents work nights, weekends or on variable days. While only a small number of them say they chose these hours for better child-care arrangements, Presser's research suggests that virtually all parents on nontraditional schedules often spend their off-hours as caregivers.

And many of them say it's difficult. Still, many agree that if you develop strategies to cope, the schedules can be a big benefit for the children as well as the pocketbook. Among their tips - which even traditional working couples can learn from:

Protect your sleep time.

One mistake evening workers make, says Janie O'Connor, president of Interface Work and Family in St. Paul-based, is doing chores and even watching TV when they should be sleeping.

Create rituals.

To stay connected with the children, some night workers videotape themselves saying a morning good-bye to the children or leave them notes in their lunch boxes.

Make a date with your spouse.

Whether it's for a romantic night out or a two-hour lunch, it's important to get a sitter and spend time alone every few weeks.