Sweating the Big Stuff at 3am

Pulling an All-Nighter

It’s the eve of a General Election and one of the few nights when it’s perfectly normal to stay up late.

While not normally a fan of self-help books, I was struck many years ago by a chapter in Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, in which Richard Carlson suggests that, from time to time, it’s good to luxuriate in the quietude of the night:

I usually get up between 3 and 4 in the morning. After a quiet cup of coffee, I usually spend some time doing yoga and a few minutes of meditation. … Sometimes I’ll just sit for a few minutes and do nothing. Virtually every day, I stop whatever I’m doing to enjoy the sunrise as it comes up over the mountain. The phone never rings, no one is asking me to do anything for them, and there is nothing I absolutely have to do. It’s by far the most quiet time of the day.

Many people have told me that this one shift in their routine was the single most important change they have ever made in their lives.

What a fabulous idea.  And Carlson wrote that in 1997, before the internet and mobile phones ruined our lives, so if anything it’s even more important now.  It sounds like a perfect way to discover an inner peace, and I’ve thanked him for the thought ever since.

Have I ever done that?  Got up at 3.30 am, just for the peacefulness?

Of course I haven’t.  It’s the middle of the bloody night.  I’m asleep like everyone else.

But not tonight.

Look at this chart I found at the FT.  It shows when seats will be declared tonight – a whole crowd of them from 3-4.30am.  Apart from helping those of us with psephological pretensions to pace ourselves, it’s reassuring for Lib Dems and Conservatives to know that their successful candidates tend to be revealed later in the process.


Apart from elections, the only other events momentous enough to get people watching TV at that time of night is a moon landing, a Las Vegas boxing event or a football match played somewhere far far away.

Like other times of day, when you say 3am, it suddenly conjures up a series of sensations.  Time is very tactile. The word temporal means time-related or spiritual – a reminder that time has a depth and a rhythmic quality that we might associate with ritualistic religious services.  And every time has something special about it.  It’s what broadcast TV thrives on.

6am – hmm early start.  May be dark.  That transition between being the previous night and the new morning. Is Open University still broadcasting or am I thinking of 1982?

5pm – Crackerjack, Pointless, the early evening news… whatever, this is very late afternoon.   Or it’s very very early evening.  Either way, I need a quiz to orientate myself.

10pm – Edgy.  Could be news, or something slightly rude. Go on, make me a little tense why don’t you..

I’m blessed with a quirky temporal synesthesia in which the very thought of certain times of day produce a delicately erotic rush.  Or at least a release of dopamine or endorphin, or whatever.

But 3am?  Yes, even 3am.  If it gives me a thrill to think about it.

For others it’s more of a migraine.

BBC World News, like other international broadcasters, struggles with the unsynchronised rhythms of its staff and its audience.  Perhaps its biggest audience is on the East Coast of America in peaktime, when PBS channels show the 10pm or 11pm  bulletin.  That’s 3am or 4am in the UK.  So the graveyard overnight slot, amidst the nocturnal stillness that Carlson describes , is when New York and Washington DC is tuning in.  These cities like energy don’t they?  A little Pzazz rather than zzzz.  But guys, it’s 4 in the MORNING.  The man is barely awake (or it’s recorded, which amounts to the same thing).

But tonight, for one night, a whole crowd will turn out.  From bleary-eyed returning officers to party activists, as well as a smattering of the hopelessly insomniac, new mums, security guards and other desk-bound shift-workers, we’ll all be together, waiting for news from Thanet West or Grimsby North, or whatever.

Not Goodnight, a good night.