Witching hour

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Witches' Sabbath La Danse du Sabbat (no caption).jpg
Witches' Sabbath
13th-century CE portrayal of an unclean spirit Daemon.jpg
13th-century CE portrayal of an unclean spirit

In folklore, the witching hour or devil's hour is a time of night that is associated with supernatural events, whereby witches, demons and ghosts are thought to appear and be at their most powerful. Definitions vary, and include the hour immediately after midnight, and the time between 3:00 am and 4:00 am.


The term now has a widespread colloquial and idiomatic usage that is associated with human physiology and behaviour to more superstitious phenomena such as luck.


The phrase "witching hour" began at least as early as 1775, in the poem "Night, an Ode." by Rev. Matthew West, [1] though its origins may go further back to 1535 where the Catholic Church prohibited activities during the 3-4 am timeframe due to emerging fears about witchcraft in Europe. [2] [ dubious ]

In the Western Christian tradition, the hour between 3 and 4 a.m. was considered a period of peak supernatural activity – this time is also referred to as the "Devil's hour" due to it being a mocking inversion of the time in which Jesus supposedly died, which was at 3 pm. [3] [ dubious ]


There are multiple times that can be considered the witching hour. Some claim the time is between 12 and 1 a.m., while others claim there is increased supernatural activity between sunset and sunrise. The New Zealand Oxford Dictionary identifies midnight as the time when witches are supposedly active. [4]

During the time in which this term originated, many people had sleeping schedules that meant they were awake during the middle of the night. [3] Nonetheless, there is psychological literature suggesting that apparitional experiences and sensed presences are most common between the hours of 2 and 4 a.m., corresponding with a 3 a.m. peak in the amount of melatonin in the body. [5]


A 19th-century version of Fussli's The Nightmare (1781) Der Albtraum (Anonym 19 Jh).jpg
A 19th-century version of Füssli's The Nightmare (1781)

The witching hour may stem to a human's sleep cycle and circadian rhythm – the body is going through REM sleep at that time, where the heart rate is slower, body temperature reduced, breathing pattern and blood pressure irregular. [6] Sudden awakening from REM sleep could cause agitation, fear and disorientation in an individual. [2]

Also, during REM sleep, which usually occurs within the witching hour, unpleasant and frightful sleep disturbances such as parasomnias can be experienced, which include nightmares, rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder, night terrors, sleepwalking, homicidal sleepwalking and sleep paralysis. [7]

Moreover, during the night and well into the witching hour, symptoms of illnesses and conditions such as lung disease, asthma, flu and common cold seem to exacerbate because there is less cortisol in the blood late at night and especially during sleep. [8] As such, the immune system becomes very active and white blood cells fight infections in the body during sleep, and this would thereby worsen the symptoms of fever, nasal congestion, cough, chills and sweating. [9] [10]

Colloquial usage

The term may be used colloquially to refer to any period of bad luck, or in which something bad is seen as having a greater likelihood of occurring. [11] [12]

In investing, it is the last hour of stock trading between 3 pm (when the U.S. bond market closes) and 4 pm EST (when the U.S. stock market closes), a period of above-average volatility. [13]

The term can also refer to a phenomenon where infants or young children who cry for an extended period of time during the hour (or two) before their bedtime, where they would usually be irritable and unwieldy with no known cause. [14] [15]

To reduce gun violence, curfew hours in Washington D.C. have been in force between 11 pm and 12 am to lower juvenile gunfire incidents. Influenced by the idea of "witching hour", 11:00–11:59 pm on weekdays are referred to as the "switching hour". [16] Furthermore, violent crimes like rape and sexual assault would peak at midnight on average and DUI police incidents would usually tend to occur at around 2 am. [17] [18]

See also

Related Research Articles

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Sleep is a naturally recurring state of mind and body, characterized by altered consciousness, relatively inhibited sensory activity, reduced muscle activity and inhibition of nearly all voluntary muscles during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and reduced interactions with surroundings. It is distinguished from wakefulness by a decreased ability to react to stimuli, but more reactive than a coma or disorders of consciousness, with sleep displaying different, active brain patterns.

Sleep disorder Medical disorder of the sleep patterns of a person

A sleep disorder, or somnipathy, is a medical disorder of an individual's sleep patterns. Some sleep disorders are severe enough to interfere with normal physical, mental, social and emotional functioning. Polysomnography and actigraphy are tests commonly ordered for diagnosing sleep disorders.

Rapid eye movement sleep Unique phase of sleep in mammals and birds, characterized by the random/rapid movement of the eyes

Rapid eye movement sleep is a unique phase of sleep in mammals and birds, characterized by random rapid movement of the eyes, accompanied by low muscle tone throughout the body, and the propensity of the sleeper to dream vividly.

Delayed sleep phase disorder Chronic mismatch between a persons normal daily rhythm, compared to other people and societal norms

Delayed sleep phase disorder (DSPD), more often known as delayed sleep phase syndrome and also as delayed sleep–wake phase disorder, is a delaying of a person's circadian rhythm, compared to those of the general population and societal norms. The disorder affects the timing of sleep, peak period of alertness, the core body temperature, rhythm, hormonal as well as other daily cycles. People with DSPD generally fall asleep some hours after midnight and have difficulty waking up in the morning. People with DSPD probably have a circadian period significantly longer than 24 hours. Depending on the severity, the symptoms can be managed to a greater or lesser degree, but no cure is known, and research suggests a genetic origin for the disorder.

Sleep paralysis Sleep state in which a person is awake but unable to move or speak

Sleep paralysis is a state, during waking up or falling asleep, in which a person is aware but unable to move or speak. During an episode, one may hallucinate, which often results in fear. Episodes generally last less than a couple of minutes. It may recur or occur as a single episode.

Sleepwalking Sleeping phenomenon combined with wakefulness

Sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism or noctambulism, is a phenomenon of combined sleep and wakefulness. It is classified as a sleep disorder belonging to the parasomnia family. It occurs during slow wave stage of sleep, in a state of low consciousness, with performance of activities that are usually performed during a state of full consciousness. These activities can be as benign as talking, sitting up in bed, walking to a bathroom, consuming food, and cleaning, or as hazardous as cooking, driving a motor vehicle, violent gestures and grabbing at hallucinated objects.

Curfew Order requiring people to remain at home

A curfew is a government order specifying a time during which certain regulations apply. Typically, curfews order all people affected by them to not be in public places or on roads within a certain time frame, typically in the evening and nighttime hours. Curfews are most often used to regulate young people. Such an order may be issued by public authorities but also by the owner of a house to those living in the household. For instance, an au pair was typically given a curfew, which regulates when they must return to the host family's home in the evening.

Rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder Medical condition

Rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder or REM behavior disorder (RBD) is a sleep disorder in which people act out their dreams. It involves abnormal behavior during the sleep phase with rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. The major feature of RBD is loss of muscle atonia during otherwise intact REM sleep. The loss of motor inhibition leads to sleep behaviors ranging from simple limb twitches to more complex integrated movements that can be violent or result in injury to either the individual or their bedmates.

Night terror Sleep disorder causing feelings of panic or dread

Night terror, also called sleep terror, is a sleep disorder causing feelings of panic or dread and typically occurring during the first hours of stage 3–4 non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and lasting for 1 to 10 minutes. It can last longer, especially in children. Sleep terror is classified in the category of NREM-related parasomnias in the International Classification of Sleep Disorders. There are two other categories: REM-related parasomnias and other parasomnias. Parasomnias are qualified as undesirable physical events or experiences that occur during entry into sleep, during sleep, or during arousal from sleep.

Sleep cycle Oscillation between the slow-wave and REM phases of sleep

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Afternoon Time of the day between noon and evening

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Non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM), also known as quiescent sleep, is, collectively, sleep stages 1–3, previously known as stages 1–4. Rapid eye movement sleep (REM) is not included. There are distinct electroencephalographic and other characteristics seen in each stage. Unlike REM sleep, there is usually little or no eye movement during these stages. Dreaming occurs during both sleep states, and muscles are not paralyzed as in REM sleep. People who do not go through the sleeping stages properly get stuck in NREM sleep, and because muscles are not paralyzed a person may be able to sleepwalk. According to studies, the mental activity that takes place during NREM sleep is believed to be thought-like, whereas REM sleep includes hallucinatory and bizarre content. NREM sleep is characteristic of dreamer-initiated friendliness, compared to REM sleep where it's more aggressive, implying that NREM is in charge of simulating friendly interactions. The mental activity that occurs in NREM and REM sleep is a result of two different mind generators, which also explains the difference in mental activity. In addition, there is a parasympathetic dominance during NREM. The reported differences between the REM and NREM activity are believed to arise from differences in the memory stages that occur during the two types of sleep.

Sexsomnia, also known as sleep sex, is a distinct form of parasomnia, or an abnormal activity that occurs while an individual is asleep. Sexsomnia is characterized by an individual engaging in sexual acts while in non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. Sexual behaviors that result from sexsomnia are not to be mistaken with normal nocturnal sexual behaviors, which do not occur during NREM sleep. Sexual behaviors that are viewed as normal during sleep and are accompanied by extensive research and documentation include nocturnal emissions, nocturnal erections, and sleep orgasms.

Polysomnography Multi-parameter study of sleep and sleep disorders

Polysomnography (PSG), a type of sleep study, is a multi-parameter study of sleep and a diagnostic tool in sleep medicine. The test result is called a polysomnogram, also abbreviated PSG. The name is derived from Greek and Latin roots: the Greek πολύς, the Latin somnus ("sleep"), and the Greek γράφειν.

Somniloquy, commonly referred to as sleep-talking, is a parasomnia that refers to talking aloud while asleep. It can range from simple mumbling sounds to loud shouts and long, frequently inarticulate speeches, and can occur many times during a sleep cycle.

Parasomnias are a category of sleep disorders that involve abnormal movements, behaviors, emotions, perceptions, and dreams that occur while falling asleep, sleeping, between sleep stages, or during arousal from sleep. Parasomnias are dissociated sleep states which are partial arousals during the transitions between wakefulness, NREM sleep, and REM sleep, and their combinations.

The International Classification of Sleep Disorders (ICSD) is "a primary diagnostic, epidemiological and coding resource for clinicians and researchers in the field of sleep and sleep medicine". The ICSD was produced by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) in association with the European Sleep Research Society, the Japanese Society of Sleep Research, and the Latin American Sleep Society. The classification was developed as a revision and update of the Diagnostic Classification of Sleep and Arousal Disorders (DCSAD) that was produced by both the Association of Sleep Disorders Centers (ASDC) and the Association for the Psychophysiological Study of Sleep and was published in the journal Sleep in 1979. A second edition, called ICSD-2, was published by the AASM in 2005. The third edition, ICSD-3, was released by the AASM in 2014.

Sleep study Sleep Medicine

A sleep study is a test that records the activity of the body during sleep. There are five main types of sleep studies that use different methods to test for different sleep characteristics and disorders. These include simple sleep studies, polysomnography, multiple sleep latency tests (MSLTs), maintenance of wakefulness tests (MWTs), and home sleep tests (HSTs). In medicine, sleep studies have been useful in identifying and ruling out various sleep disorders. Sleep studies have also been valuable to psychology, in which they have provided insight into brain activity and the other physiological factors of both sleep disorders and normal sleep. This has allowed further research to be done on the relationship between sleep and behavioral and psychological factors.

Classification of sleep disorders, as developed in the 19th century, used primarily three categories: Insomnia, Hypersomnia and Nightmare. In the 20th century, increasingly in the last half of it, technological discoveries led to rapid advances in the understanding of sleep and recognition of sleep disorders. Major sleep disorders were defined following the development of Electroencephalography (EEG) in 1924 by Hans Berger.

Confusional arousals are classified as “partial awakenings in which the state of consciousness remains impaired for several minutes without any accompanying major behavioural disorders or severe autonomic responses”. Complete or partial amnesia of the episodes may be present.


  1. West, Matthew. "Poems, &c. on several occasions. By Matthew West, A.M. Curate Assistant of St. Mary's, Donnybrook, and Chaplain to the Right Rev. Lord Bishop of Cork". Spencerians. Retrieved 4 December 2020.
  2. 1 2 Should You be Afraid of the Witching Hour? by Shelly Weaver-Cather from Tuft & Needle, July 18, 2018
  3. 1 2 Sedgwick, Icy (3 March 2019). "What time is the witching hour and does it even exist". Icy Sedgwick. Retrieved 14 November 2020.
  4. Kennedy, Graeme D.; Deverson, Tony (2005). The New Zealand Oxford Dictionary. New Zealand Dictionary Centre. p. 1298. ISBN   0-19-558451-1.
  5. Luke, David P.; Zychowicz, Karolina (2014). "Working the graveyard shift at the witching hour: Further exploration of dreams, psi and circadian rhythms" (PDF). International Journal of Dream Research. 7 (2): 105–112. doi:10.11588/ijodr.2014.2.12000 . Retrieved 2017-10-06.
  6. Is there really a witching hour, like 3 a.m.? By Jaime Licauco from the Philippine Daily Inquirer. June 02, 2020
  7. Brains that go bump in the night: Stanford biologist talks about parasomnias by Erica Seigneur from Stanford Medicine. October 30, 2015
  8. Why do we feel sicker at night? by Louise Ní Chríodáin by the Irish Times. February 18, 2020.
  9. Here’s Why You Always Feel Sicker at Night by Markham Heid from Time.com. February 6, 2019
  10. Your Body’s Witching Hours by Melinda Beck from the Wall Street Journal. June 2, 2015.
  11. Manning-Schaffel, Vivian. "Cry, Cry, Cry: The latest (not entirely reassuring) research on colic". Babble.com.
  12. Little, Ken. "Beware of Stock's Witching Hour". About.com.
  13. "Witching Hour Definition". Investopedia. Retrieved 2011-10-01.
  14. Age-by-age guide to surviving witching hour By Jenn Cox from Today's Parent. October 26, 2020
  15. Lewis, Rhona (20 December 2019). "Witching hour is the worst-here's what you can do about it". Healthline. Retrieved 14 November 2020.
  16. Keep the Kids Inside? Juvenile Curfews and Urban Gun Violence by Jillian B. Carr and Jennifer L. Doleac from CATO Institute. March 16, 2016
  17. Violent Crimes Most Likely to Occur At Night by Security Magazine. June 14, 2019
  18. Crimes that Happen While You Sleep by The Sleep Judge Editorial Team. November 4, 2020