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

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

  1. There is a real reason for this:. My Fellow Humans , we are making it happen, it seems like Time is going faster because it is, Time is being speeded up as Technology is pushing our lives faster and faster and faster everyday. It’s not just us Older people, look how fast kids are growing up now , they are growing so fast they don’t have time to slow down and don’t tailgate in the fast lane.!!!

  2. in my opinion the best way to reflect on life is to get a standard measuring tape from either your garage or local merchant, stretch it out to 70 inches , because they say that’s what we are allocated , 3 score years and ten, then have a look at where you are on the tape , what have you done with your life so far and what can you achieve with the balance , it is quite an eye opener , enjoy and Regards

    1. I have what I think is an excellent way to to describe how time seems to move more quickly as we get older. Consider your life as a Pizza. When you are eight years old, cut the pizza pie in eight slices, one slice is a year of your life. When you are 40 years old, cut the pie into 40 slices, one is a year of your life. Much less so it goes faster.

  3. I feel like it’s similar to the double slit experiment in a way. Like the processing speed plus the act of simply observing time changes the way we perceive it and as we gain more knowledge and our view of the world changes so do how we perceive time and that’s why it is percieved as a gradual happening; our perception that time speeds up as we age. It’s crazy how linear time theory and the acceleration of how we perceive time kind of seem connected or similar. Maybe our processing if visual information I’m frames is what time really is just conscoius observation of reality like time and reality cannot exist without the observer and that’s why I say its kinda like the double slit experiment. But I have never studied this stuff ir read much about it. I only know very little from watching the cosmos and quantum physics videos on YouTube about different theories. I just think a lot and see the world differently. I cannot get it out of my head that I’m this incredibly microscopic or I guess there isn’t a term for how small we really are in comparison to the unknown and infinite size of whatever is on the outside of our universe, but I imagine myself that way as if I was a ginormous bring on the outsidex10 of whatever is outside our universe, but it’s incredible. Like when we view the microscopic wouldand if we could view the quantum realm like on the movie antman. Scientists looking from that perspective may be oblivious to our existence and couldn’t believe the work being done on the tiniest spell of matter we call earth. Like isn’t our existence so insignificant but also so very important when you factor in perspective and observation. This stuff blows my mind and just really gets me mad cause I want to know all there is to know. And there’s never gonna be a way to know much more than I do now. So it’s frustrating.

  4. As we age the physical body must be way more taken care of. Especially chronic situation (some rooted in our childhood/society behaviours like I had and have to deal with) .
    Then a young has not the heaviness of heaving to deal with burocracy or having too many life related preoccupation (linked to survival…and old age survival).
    Hence the free time is scarce. The projects so many. And so the duties and needs and knowing time left is at the end….
    That makes me feeling it running. We know we are getting there….

  5. My first daughter was born 28 years ago yet it seems only 5 years ago. It is panicking and depressing to think that i have roughly 5 or less years left to reach age of 87(that is if I last till then).
    Understanding the causes for this phenomenon might help finding a remedy even if it is half ass.
    I have read most of the comments. I used to blame the percentage theory. Now I think there are number of other factors at work.

    Culprits:

    1-Journey of discoveries – It starts intensely from day one and brain reaches its climax in terms of functionality sometimes in the mid 20’s. Brain wears down every single day afterwards. Playing hide n seek does not feel as exciting anymore the way it did when experienced as a child. The less things draw our attention, pleasant or not, the less they will be recorded in our memory. If events are not recorded or well pegged in memory, they become non existent and obliterate any sense of time that was spent on experiencing them.

    2-Memory loss- As we get older our brain loses its sharpness leading to gradual memory loss. Memory loss results in losing any sense of time that was spent on the events. So if it feels my daughter was born 5 years ago, is because I forgot memories associated with 23 years of her growing up.

    3-Losing interest and saturation- Gradually running out of things/adventures to look forward to experience is another culprit. When people feel ready to go is most likely, I suspect, is because there is not single thing left for them to enjoy experiencing. I had a passion for sports cars when I was younger but could never afford a Ferrari. The reason for not having one now is not money. Its absolute lack of interest. It is no longer exciting.

    4-Technology and more importantly internet /digital world – Going shopping for our wedding ring was a memorable one which I remember every moment of it 35 years later. I can do the same purchase online which is NOT memorable. The amount of information and experiences achieved due to presence and advancement of technology is simply too fast and overwhelming to leave a memorable impact in our brain. Hence wiping out the time spent on them. That includes taking 3 hour flight to a vacation destination rather than taking memorable one week drive to the destination. I have vivid memories of almost all road trips but far less memories taking planes. This can lead to #3.

    5-Experiencing an event where its memory is not recorded. I still remember some of the movies I watched when I was 12. Now I don’t remember what movie I watch last week or what I had for breakfast. If the event does not stay in the memory the time associated with watching that movie or the breakfast is vaporized resulting getting the sense that time is passing faster than it realy is.

    6-Mental disorder or close to disorder – # 3 can potentially lead to becoming depressed sitting on a chair doing nothing therefore noting to memorize leading to obliterating time spent sitting on a chair doing nothing resulting in feeling months and years flying by.

    I can think of approximate suggestion for some of the culprits for you specially younger ones. For 1 and 2 there is no fix as we all expire eventually but keeping the brain as healthy as possible ensure the outcome to be as good as it gets(don’t fry the brain with drugs). For 3, I would suggest to try not to over work or over achieve. Take a balance approach to life. In this digital and fast moving world you can jam pack a lot of experiences in a relatively short time. Leave some ventures untapped for later in life. Sometimes cook from scratch instead of ordering Uber eats, take road trips, explore cultures and places you go instead of taking all inclusive crap getting wasted by the pool side etc.
    I over worked and somewhat over achieved in my 30s and 40s. As a result I am nearly suffering from depression(#6) due to 2 and 3.
    I am 59.

  6. I think subjectively its not the above. In my early 40’s time started to increasingly appear to zoom by with kids, and the house and pets and the relatives and all the usual stuff people do that keeps them occupied. Later on, when I decided that I’ve done all I can to set things up a certain way, I did a complete 180. I gave up the modern way of life, I practically moved into an almost tribal village in the rainforest. I was older but still in good physical shape. The locals were a little confused at first but in time they accepted me and I found a role in their society that was useful. Time seemed to subjective come to almost a stand-still throughout this whole process. It’s started picking up again way later after I was already established with the locals but in no way does it feel the same as when I was in the states in the big city, rushing to all the ‘important’ events and meeting with the ‘important’ people. I think simpler, more rural and more communal societal configurations make this process much less uniquely felt. It’s a matter of perspective, and living in the ‘west’ is the most undesirable perspective vantage point to have when dealing with this issue of subjective time perception.

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