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The people who love loneliness

Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, 1942

For most of us, sleeping through the day and staying up all night sounds miserable, says Faith Hill in The Atlantic. For some, it’s bliss. Across America, “ultra-introverts” are seeking out a nocturnal life. They buy blackout curtains and train themselves to sleep during the day; they voluntarily work night shifts; they find 24-hour supermarkets to do their shopping in the early hours. The aim is to limit human contact as much as possible. “There’s a sense of timelessness,” says one night owl. “It feels like you’re in a free-floating abyss.” The lifestyle gives you freedom – from people, expectations, and distractions. Another nocturnal says: “The night-time, with its silence and its darkness and its solitude, helps you settle more into who you really are.”

For years, we’ve been told that humans are naturally social creatures. Our neocortex, the part of the brain that is essential for social skills, is larger than it is in other primates. Scientists say that loneliness leads to bad health. But all the nocturnals I spoke to say they’re happy. They feel fulfilled by their isolated lives. This raises “some serious questions” about human behaviour. Do we need contact to be content? Do universal psychological needs exist at all? Maybe the stigma around solitude needs to shift. For some, it’s not to be pitied – it’s a choice. Herman, who has lived nocturnally for more than 30 years, tells me he dreams of retirement. Then, he can finally quit his night shift – his final tie to society. “I can see just living in a tiny little ranch somewhere – somewhere in Montana with nobody around,” he says. “Peace and quiet and dark.”