I think the loneliest hour of the day is 3 AM. As an artist, a student, and as a recovering night owl, I’ve spent more than a few nights working until dawn. Without fail, as soon as it hits 3 AM, I become acutely aware of how alone I am in the world. Everyone in the house or home is asleep, separated from me only by a few hours and yet also by the infinite depths of their subconscious.

It’s around 3 AM that I hit a wall. If I’m working voluntarily, I’ll quit. If I’m working on a project and I have to keep going for a deadline, I feel like crying for a few minutes, then I fart around on YouTube, then I keep going. Once I hit 4 AM, I’m fine. That’s the point where I transition from “I’m up late” to “I’m up early.”

But man, 3 AM is the hill to beat.

The final stretch where I still desperately want to go to bed, to sleep like everyone else around me, to save myself the misery of a long day without rest. And for anyone who still has a few hours of work left to do at 3 AM, it can feel impossible to get through that night—as though 3 AM is the only hour that you’ll ever have again.

Like any other terrible, middle-of-the-night fear, it goes away eventually. All of us face our 3 AM hours, whether they be literal or figurative. A few minutes of mental rest, maybe a snack, and a new soundtrack are what used to propel me to the magic of 4 AM.

The Best Hour to Witness

And health risks notwithstanding, staying up past 3 gave me access to my favorite hour: the few minutes just before dawn. That’s when early birds are getting up and making coffee. You can look outside and see just a few folks walking their dogs or going out for a run. Dawn has its own magic to it, unique and complementary to dusk’s. Dusk always reminds me of a time for conversation and reflection and bonfires.

Dawn reminds me of getting up, getting going, and mentally getting ahead of the day. The weird thing is that if you’re up before anyone else, you get the strange sensation that you’re watching over it all.

Imagine that, in order for dawn to happen, someone has to be awake. Someone has to watch it happen. When you’re up before dawn, you feel like the watchman, the person who makes sure the dawn happens just by being present for it. Whatever distress and cold loneliness you’d feel at 3 AM is like a bad dream, mist that melts away in the early morning sun.

The loneliest hour

All-nighters have their own rhythm, but it’s not always pleasant.