From the small number used to identify such hours (e.g. 1 o'clock, 2 o'clock).
- The very early morning, just after midnight, when most people are asleep.
2017 June 26, Alexis Petridis, “Glastonbury 2017 verdict: Radiohead, Foo Fighters, Lorde, Stormzy and more”, in the Guardian:
- ...the writer conjured up a dystopian fantasy more berserk than anything you might find yourself listening to in the small hours at the Stone Circle.
Almost always used with the definite article (the small hours), or occasionally with a demonstrative adjective (these small hours, those small hours).