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

82 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

      1. This is my opinion as well. It makes the most sense and I feel age relative to it’s perportion of my life.

      2. I agree… I have often thought your brain is a collection of all of YOUR experiences so if you are 4, you have had 4 birthdays, 4 Christmas’s, 4 summers etc. so everything you have collected in your brain related to time is divided by those events. The duration until the next summer is 1/4 of your total time memory.
        At 24? it is 1/24 of your total time memory so you start looking for a new swimsuit in April..
        At 84? Well, if you are still counting… it takes a load more time memory dividing than 4. On the plus side you probably wouldn’t be caught dead in a swimsuit! No worries!!!
        😳

        1. I used to think that for a long time, but an alternative just popped into mind that I suspect is actually what is happening. A child sleeps in such a manner that each morning when it wakes up it is like a new being. As we age this capacity for sleep to complete dissolve our feeling of the past fades and as it fades, like an old coat we start to grow as we age which more and more highlights our life as a continuum.
          It is almost impossible for person as an adult to experience how they slept as a child, or the degree to which sleep cleaned out automated processes from which we derive our sense of the passage of time. But under certain unusual but natural conditions it can happen. But its possible there is a reason why it biologically happens like this. As we age responsibilities arise that would make the sort of sleep a very young child has impractical.

    3. It is because….time is running out, unlike when we were all 14 and had unlimited time.
      Now our minutes are nearly used up, and as Warren Zevon said,
      “my sh*t is f*cked up.”

      1. As we get older we forget so much during the course of a year that Xmas seems to come round every few months. However, when we concentrate on what interests us such as my observing my many grandchildren growing up they seem to have been small little adults for millennia with squeaky voices growing only slowly. That’s because I pay them so much attention fascinated by their lives and remembering far more about them and because I make more effort to concentrate. So, for me, day to day life fly’s by but not if you focus on all the events of a subject. Hope that makes sense!

        Richard Cripps

    4. I too have thought that time perception is biological aging. Like a car starting out on a hill, at birth and through childhood, time moves slowly until we reach the top, middle age or just before. Then, as we pass “ over the hill”, just like that car we begin to speed towards death and time seems to speed up as well. It seems to me to be tied to our biological growth and subsequent deterioration. Time perception ruled at a cellular level.

  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

        1. i have one question for you ma’am

          is that true my running speed increase when i grow
          which age is good to get fast speed

  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,

        1. I absolutely love this!!! Thank you !! I was looking for a Christian to talk about forever We all have been sent here on a mission time has no rank over this mission Time is never ending in Heaven in this world it’s simply an essence that dictates our memory . Everyone so busy tryin to find a happy life . Happy like any other emotion is for the moment . That’s all any of us get . Those moments that take your breath away LIVE THEM FOR ALL THEY ARE WORTH

  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!

        1. Amen! “Live in the Eternal now!” I completely agree! your days here on earth are so very precious. So enjoy the time you have without worry of time. Enjoy your life! its a gift! Take chances, tell the people you love, that you love them! take that trip! go on that adventure! ask for that promotion! ask her or him out! instead of worrying about time, think of all the things you can still do, and don’t hesitate to do them!
          And yes God loves you! Don’t ever forget that!

          Love you all!

      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.

      7. You need to learn and practice mindfulness techniques! You also need to try new experiences and balance your life with self care, creativity, and work. You are anxious and feeling empty because you are missing something bigger, outside of yourself. A higher power. I recommend starting with a Unitarian Church. They expose you to all religions, allowing you to make a connections and meet your Savior.

      8. Same, man. The saddest part for me is probably the realization that time is flying by so fast. My dad is almost turning fifty and I regret that I couldn’t spend more valuable time with him when he was in his early-mid 40s. Now I just wish that he had me earlier so we’d be able to spend more time together.

    2. No, what is depressing is my friend who died from Cancer at the age of 23. In your 20’s have balance. Have 3 hobbies. One that makes you money, one that you enjoy and let’s you be creative, and one that keeps you fit and healthy. Practice mindfulness, travel, save your money, and Practice mindfulness – a 39 year old.

  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

      1. Well , contrary to what others think about age and time my theory is each year must actually get faster as the universe accelerates everything within the universe accelerates at the same speed including time , good grief it’s tea time already

        1. I believe what you say. The universe is accelerating. Making time faster. it’s nothing to do with old age. Many young people I talk to , often say isn’t time going fast.it’s the evolution of life.

    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.”

      1. Exactly! When you look at your life through the lens of hindsight with a macro view, of course time appears to have flown by. But if you could take each year of your life and list what you did every day….week by week, month by month, year by year, you would realize how little time actually did fly by, and what a long journey it’s been to get to where you are today.

  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.

      1. Oh man, that’s a great way to think of it.

        I do that all the time – have a clear memory and that same feeling of how is this so long ago. Filling in other memories really does help.

        This makes me feel more at ease.

  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

  19. Psychologist William James, in his 1890 text Principles of Psychology, wrote that as we age, time seems to speed up because adulthood is accompanied by fewer and fewer memorable events. When the passage of time is measured by “firsts” (first kiss, first day of school, first family vacation), the lack of new experiences in adulthood, James morosely argues, causes “the days and weeks [to] smooth themselves out…and the years grow hollow and collapse.
    I agree with William James from this 130 year old thesis. There is little “newness”, and a lack of things to “look forward to” as we get older. This is particularly true after age 65 (ish). Once retired, we have no “firsts” to excite us, and wait in anticipation for. At age 67, I am grateful to “look forward” vicariously, to the life events of my grandchildren (7 of them)…I look forward to passing along all the love and knowledge obtained throughout my own life. It is really perception, in the end. Another post stated that if our lifespan was 150 + years, this would be different.

  20. With the passing of time & the speed at which it increases as time passes, my biggest regret is turning down endless opportunities to sleep with woman. I married very young & am a faithful, loving husband, but man I turned my back on so many pretty girls & free rides. Eat up everything you can that’s my advice.

  21. Get rid of your computer, phone and TV. Read new books, go for walks. Time will slow dramatically.

    1. I believe time passes more slowly when someone else is responsible for your well-being, you don’t have adult worries/responsibilities, and therefore you’re always in the moment. Mindfulness (or being in the moment) makes life seem longer and time seem slower. Once you reach adulthood and you’re constantly worried about things and planning ahead, you stop being in the moment. You’re always thinking and planning instead of just existing in the moment. Think about the way a toddler can lay down on the floor and stare at a bug moving or half an hour. Time goes slower for them because they are in the moment. And that’s it.

  22. We are like an objects falling to the ground, the closer to the ground the grater the speed of the object. We begin to fall at the moment of conception. We are the object falling, time is the speed we are falling at…. the ground is death

  23. I think we think and worry too much and that makes us start living in fear. Trust in God. He is in charge. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow is uncertain. Smile and find things to be grateful for. Being happy makes a big difference.

  24. Unpopular opinion, but still an opinion.
    I wish I had that remote control from that movie Click. I want to fast-forward my life 15 years and be retired. And then, do whatever I want, whatever that is, as I want it, whenever I want it, without having to wake up early and see the same old stupid faces at work, having to deal with more ungrateful patients.
    Apart from working in a hospital, I have been a patient myself since my unnecessary birth. Going into and coming out of hospitals my entire life. Renal issues. Being anxious to do medical exams every month to see if I have stable results, to adjust medication intake.

    I don’t want to anger anyone by saying this but to any who suggests that God loves me, I have tried the god thing and it doesn’t work. To anyone who might say that there are worse things out there, there is nothing godly about that.

    15 years. Everyone says how fast time goes by. I even started counting the days one by one, till my retirement. And they seem infinite.

    I don’t have children and I don’t want any. I just need to pass the rest of my life peacefully. My life may be boring then when I get retired.
    But at least it will be boring without obligations.

  25. I’m 42 this year, and time goes by so much faster than let’s say 22.my 30’s flew by very fast! Where’d they go???

    I also find you fear death less as you age, or is that just me? I once feared death as a child, but I honestly don’t anymore.

    So much changes as we age! Developmental psychology plays a role imo.

    1. I fear death very much! The loss of my parents, husband, brother, even pets. Spirituality comforts me. I don’t want to cease to exist. To not be conscious. Though I have been Depressed, I would never want to never “BE”… As am Empath I get many messages and know things that I couldn’t possibly know. So it gives me faith.

  26. times go by fast I seemed cant collect my goals “meet goals” before I get too old so please explain to me how to get it done?

  27. The theory I align closely to on why time seems to move faster as we get older is closer to perception and your own collection of new experiences.

    While growing up, most experiences are new – so they get captured and stored, we can look back and think about all the fun stuff we did. So the perception is that time was dragged out longer, while in actuality you were just experiencing more new events which your brain would process and put into storage banks. Every year in school would be different, different classes, different extra activities, different teachers and sometimes different kids to meet or schools entirely. This all adds up to new experiences constantly. We learned, interacted and did a LOT in those years that were less tedious as we have gotten older.

    Now, we go to the same job/career and perform the same routines over and over. We pay our bills, we cook dinner, we take care of the kids, we clean the house and so on. These things do change, but for the most part they are the same day in and day out. That is why, when you ask someone what they did last week – They have to struggle to remember, because these tedious motions that we mostly play on repeat all merge together. And before you know it, another year is down and you are wondering where the heck the time went.

    Have you ever completed a commute from A -> B so many times, that some days you feel like you instantly ended up at B and don’t even remember the drive? Same thing happens with your life while on autopilot.

    Anyone that has gone through a huge life change, via loss of a loved one or loss of a job which dramatically changed their life will probably never say – “This was the fastest year of my life!”. That is because the events of your life have made you stop, focus and pay attention to what is going on which drags things out. Once things settle and you get back into the “rhythm” of life, it will speed up again.

    Also, if you are in a career/job that you hate and are always looking forward to the weekend – Then you are speeding up your life by always looking for the future and not enjoying it on the daily. You are living for 2 days off per week instead of enjoying the full 7.

    That is my thoughts on it.

    Thanks for reading!

  28. A child sleeps in such a profound manner that when they awaken, they awaken like a new born in comparison to an aged person so that even the day before feels like much more like a remote past than it does as we age. Its not that they don’t remember what happened the day before but that the weight off it has been removed overnight (all things being equal).

    One cannot remember this under normal conditions that this was our experience in later life because it is alien to the momentum of our current experience. Having said that one can rediscover this phenomena of being “washed clean” in sleep patterns in later life which has the exact same effect. One can leave work on Friday and then return on Monday with the sensation that one had been away for vastly extended period, as if one had gone on a distant all engulfing vacation over several months.

    The exact mechanism I could not explain but am convinced it is, like a dream that goes for a few minutes but in its passage of time feels like it lasted several days. Is fundamentally related to our relationship to sleep.

    As we age this capacity for sleep to profoundly regenerate us becomes encrusted to the point where days merge into a virtual break less continuum giving the sensation that things are passing faster without any real pause.

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