How a clock measures time and how you perceive it are quite different. As we grow older, it can often feel like time goes by faster and faster. This speeding up of subjective time with age is well documented by psychologists, but there is no consensus on the cause. In a paper published this month, Professor Adrian Bejan presents an argument based on the physics of neural signal processing. He hypothesizes that, over time, the rate at which we process visual information slows down, and this is what makes time ‘speed up’ as we grow older.

As we age, he argues, the size and complexity of the networks of neurons in our brains increases – electrical signals must traverse greater distances and thus signal processing takes more time. Moreover, ageing causes our nerves to accumulate damage that provides resistance to the flow of electric signals, further slowing processing time. Focusing on visual perception, Bejan posits that slower processing times result in us perceiving fewer ‘frames-per-second’ – more actual time passes between the perception of each new mental image. This is what leads to time passing more rapidly.When we are young, each second of actual time is packed with many more mental images. Like a slow-motion camera that captures thousands of images per second, time appears to pass more slowly.

As he puts it: “People are often amazed at how much they remember from days that seemed to last forever in their youth. It’s not that their experiences were much deeper or more meaningful, it’s just that they were being processed in rapid fire.”

Bejan’s argument is intuitive and based on simple principles of physics and biology. As such, it is a compelling explanation for this common phenomenon. However, it is not the only explanation out there, and so a more rigorous experimental approach may be required before this mystery is solved for good.

Managing Correspondent: Rory Maizels

Original article: Why the Days Seem Shorter as We Get Older – European Review

Media coverage: It’s spring already? Physics explains why time flies as we age – Science Daily; Physics explains why time passes faster as you age – Quartz

Image Credit: Aron Visuals

46 thoughts on “No, It’s Not Just You: Why time “speeds up” as we get older

  1. I am 64 years old and have noticed how time seems to be flying by. As a result, I have spent a lot of time thinking about this. I believe a good part of this has to do with perception. If my life span was 250 years long, I do not think that time would appear to be flying by.

    1. That’s one of the reasons I never accept the theory that we are the some total of our experience, the Doctor is convinced humans are biologic computers and being human is much more than that! For instance all life down to the smallest virus contain information stored in the DNA, Doctor!

    2. It’s a relative thing. Einstein theory. As we get older each year is a small er part of our life. When I was 10 each year was 1 tenth of my life. I’m now 67 each year 1 67th of my life

  2. All i want to say that my elementary school lasted forever, as well as days in a high school. Times began to fly when in a college.

    1. Guys, let’s be real. Ultimately there’s no such thing as a time machine. In other words, it is what it is. Time is goin by quick because we wasting time thinking about why time goes by quick. Live in the moment, it’s yours. In the meantime, take me back to Love Machine.

    2. Time goes faster because ,when you are younger time goes slow because you have a lot less to think about ,
      As you age you have more to think about ie work,family ,finance , etc so the old adage is when your busy time flows faster does that make sense !!

      1. Wait till you’re 80 plus. I’m trying too hard to do well at not trying too hard to do well. Say that 3 times fast, if there’s time. (smile)
        an Octogenarian

  3. Death and a Black Hole have common traits. Time moves faster as we get nearer our time of death. Just as an object gets nearer a Black Hole the faster it travels. Death is the non-existence of time as is the object that travels into a Black Hole approaching non-existence.

    1. I have used the whirlpool as an analogy since I started perceiving time speeding up about 10 years ago in my mid-40’s. When I was young we are on the outer parts of the whirlpool, but as I get older I move closer and closer, time moves faster and faster until I reach the middle at the end of life. And thennnn…..?

      1. and Theeeeeeeeennnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn…………………..you go back home to your
        Heavenly Father where you came from and, continue growing as a person. You are his child. If you have questions, please read at LDS.org,

  4. I am 20 and my birthday is in 3 months time, more and more it feels like days turn into weeks and months just fly by. My 20th b day seems like it was about 5 months ago. Depressing me big time

    1. I am 14 and already thinking about this wich causes me anxiety and difficulty to sleep so like i’d like to know if theres a way to fix this issue.

      1. There’s hope.

        While listening to a podcast about Frank Ocean’s song “Skyline To” a very academic Cole Chuchna explains that a scientific study suggests that in our youth, time seems to pass slowly because it is chock full of new experiences, which the brain marks with importance. This makes youth feel longer. As we age and settle into schedules, our experiences blend together and become the same, making time seem to move faster than before. My opinion? Be curious for new experiences with ravenous hunger.

      2. You have anxiety and difficulty sleeping because your mind is obsessed with these spalling thoughts. My mind was in turmoil when I was a teenager.
        The perception of time is like riding a sleigh off a snow covered mountain. The sleigh picks up speed as it descends. It’s the same way with I us
        As we get older time seems to speed up. It’s been my experience and approaching my eighty sixth birthday it’s like riding a rocket. The years are whizzing by and it seems like only yesterday that I was just fourteen!
        I suggest learning to live in the eternal NOW and accepting the things you cannot change. Decide who you are and what your mission is during your brief journey on spaceship earth. Be grateful for each day because it is a Present.
        Peace and Blessings Always remember that God loves you!

      3. Don’t worry about it. Spend time enjoying every day and make sure to appreciate all the good things and people in your life. That’s the most important thing. That we enjoy the journey. The fact that you are already thinking about this means that you are very special.

      4. I’m 25 and time is moving by faster every year. Life is short. I might be 25 now but soon I’ll be like 70 in a blink of an eye. As you get older, you experience less new things. Society forces you into this path, because you have to work. It becomes monotonous. There are also biological reasons that cause time to pass faster. There’s nothing you can do except keep doing things you like. Have no regrets when you get old.

      5. Just stop thinking about it so much. Relax and enjoy life. Don’t intend to sound so cliche but you are still a youngster. Wait till your in your 60s and older. You think time is flying by now? I did same thing. Just relax😀

      6. Time slows down when we lose technology. Think about the last time the power went out. What did you do? How long did the hours seem? I have been putting my phone away as much as i can for this reason.
        Monotony is another reason time seems to speed away from us. If you’re doing the same things every day there isn’t much to remember.
        Lose your screens and go make some memories. It will help, with both time and with general happiness.

  5. Part of the experience is possibly the lack of novelty and the deterioration of comprehension. The inability to fully absorb oneself into events so that they subjectively integrate more slowly so that Comprehenion and reality are out of phase.

    1. Interesting it is moving faster with in the confines of the wall clock ……seems impossible but it is…..it’s not in our head………..or it’s moving quicker

    2. Alan Byron, we as children find everything so fascinating and everything is new to us! As we get older we become “adults” and that is what destroys our curiosity I guess and perhaps school and society in general, the media trains us to become part of the herd. We need to become children again, meaning to be in awe of new things.

  6. The speed of time is dependent on the processing of data from the environment…as we age less changes so we process the environment with less data… less data less time to process it… less time spent in 3D reality where time is experienced

  7. I don’t think it already happens to me because of my age, but im forgetting more and more along the time. Im 16 and a day feels like a week. I also don’t remember a lot from a couple years ago

  8. My theory is that it is about percentages: when we are young each additional year is a large per of our life (ie from 5 to 6 is 20% of our life). As we get older each year is a smaller and smaller percentage. ( ie 50 to 51 is only an additional 2%). I think that we feel percentage changes more than the absolute change.

    1. I’ve thought about that. It’s kind of depressing to think that the time from 20 to 40 seems the same as 40 to death

  9. I think when we are young and can’t Waite until our birthdays to get here that will make us an age that we wish to be for one reason or another , it’s just like waiting in a long line when we are growing up. After we grow up we realize how everything is passing us by and how wonderful it was when we were younger.

  10. so my theory is that time goes faster as we get older because when we die w dont know if would turn into ghost plus time can be a ghost going through time faster anf faster if u think about it its an additional 50% of life
    its sad…

  11. ok my theory is as we grow older , it can often feel like time goes faster and faster…. focusing on visual perception, Bejan posits slower processing times result in us perceving fewer frames per second more actual time passes between the perception of each new mental image. This leads to time passing more rapidly

  12. Simpler answer…… When you are 10 years old 1 year is 1 tenth of you
    existence. When you are 50 year old it’s 1 fiftieth of you existence. So
    going from 10 years old to 11 – is the same as going from 50 year old to 55.
    Living 1/10 more of your existence.

    1. It’s all about how you remember things. If I think about the birth of my daughter 6 years ago in relation to celebrating her birthday it seems like time has just skipped in a flash. But then if you think about all the other things in between like first time walking, learning to ride a bike, first day of school, etc. it makes the day of her birth feel further away.

      This article kind of help me have hope that I have time still. That I am not going to go to sleep one day at 40 and wake up at 80.
      https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/07/15/time-warped-claudia-hammond/

      “The problem with the proportionality theory is that it fails to account for the way we experience time at any one moment. We don’t judge one day in the context of our whole lives. If we did, then for a 40-year-old every single day should flash by because it is less than one fourteen-thousandth of the life they’ve had so far. It should be fleeting and inconsequential, yet if you have nothing to do or an enforced wait at an airport for example, a day at 40 can still feel long and boring and surely longer than a fun day at the seaside packed with adventure for a child. … It ignores attention and emotion, which … can have a considerable impact on time perception.”

  13. Can you imagine it’s going to be 20 years since 9 11? I have been having a hard time processing this as to me it has felt as still does feel like it’s been 5, maybe 6 but not 7 years since. What the heck is going on?

    1. It is because it is a memory that is constantly recalled and reviewed in great detail. So it feels fresh every time you recall the memory regardless of how much time has passed. The clearer a memory is to us the closer it will appear. Especially when you are only recalling that event. Start adding in things that have happened since then and it will start to stretch out the time frame.

      I think this is why time seems to get faster when we are older. We have more days to remember. A lot is redundant. Even things like birthdays and holidays no matter how fun they are become routine. Finding something special and unique in those moments can help you separate out those moments. Upon quick recall it is going to seem like something a while back happened just yesterday.

      For me I went to Vegas 4 years ago. It was memorable and I think about it a lot. So I go how they hell did 4 years pass by already. But then I start thinking about the other trips I have gone on in between and all the other big moments since then and it then starts to bridge that time and actually make it feel like 4 years have passed.

      I still struggle with it a lot though as I am about to turn 34 and my kids are going to be 8 and 6 and thinking how fast 10 years will fly and they will be going to or getting ready to go to college. You want to remember everything in great detail and not miss out or forget anything, but it literally is impossible. It is just something I guess we have to learn to live with.

  14. All we truly have is now. So live life to the fullest in every moment. Enjoy the ones your with, enjoy the ones you love. Because before you know it time will pass us by.

  15. I always thought it was a matter of percentage. As a youngster, each day was a significant percentage of my entire life. So of course it seemed longer. Not only that, but the percentage of new experiences was greater. As a teenager more things were repeat, but still plenty of new things, and the days and weeks were each a slightly smaller slice of the total. So the progression continued as I became an adult.
    Now I’m in my 70s. Each day is a much smaller slice of my total time here. And I’m doing many more things for the *last* time than for the first. I’m not surprised the last year has been a blink.

  16. I have noticed that when we go away on holiday for a fortnight, the first week passes much slower than the second. When we go away for only one week, the time still seems to pass slowly – the second half doesn’t rush by. I think that this has to do with novelty factor. The first seven days are more of a novelty than the last 7. Similarly a weekend away seems far longer than one spent at home doing the usual things. If we want time to pass more slowly perhaps we should try to break up the routine with new experiences.

  17. Thank you so much for your efforts and helping us answer our most important and complex questions!
    I’m feeling better now that I know what’s the reason why time pass this quickly…I’m 23 though…

  18. The Denman Effect

    Christopher Denman drops in
    Punctually once a year,
    Yet surprised I always am
    Him earlier to behold.
    This anomaly in time
    I will name, ‘ The Denman Effect ‘,
    For Denman shows me that time
    Flows faster as one grows old!

    Boghos L. Artinian

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