Why does time seem to speed up as we get older? The months and years seem to roll by, faster and faster. We just put the holiday ornaments away, and it’s time to pull them out again. Same with the summer clothes – even though the winter seems to drag on, day-to-day, with a snap it’s over, and we’re planning summer weekends again.
People have always come up with explanations for why we feel like time speeds up. Some claim it’s due to the overall amount of time we have experienced so far. For a six-year-old, an entire summer represents a huge block of time experienced. For a 60-year-old, that same summer represents a small percentage of a total lifetime. Others have suggested that as our metabolisms slow, somehow that causes our memories to speed up.
In an article on Psychology Today, “Why Time Goes Faster as You Get Older,” author Ronald Riggio suggests that it’s the novelty of the experiences we have when we are young that makes it seem like time is moving more slowly. The first time you ride a bike, the first time you visit Disney World, or the first time you kiss someone – these experiences are still clear in our memories years later, because the novelty of them causes us to remember all the details. Once something becomes repetitive – even something pleasant like an annual beach holiday – the memory just doesn’t stick in the same way.
Adrian Bejan, a mechanical engineering professor at Duke University, explores this neurological and physical factors responsible, in a paper called: Why the Days Seem Shorter as We Get Older, published in the European Review. In his paper, Bejan explains how it all comes down to something called “saccadic eye movement.” These are tiny, jerking motions that our eyes make involuntarily, several times per second. In between these jerks, our eyes focus, and the brain processes what we see. This process slows as we get older, meaning that our brains absorb less information. Because we are taking and storing fewer of these visual “snapshots,” it feels like time is passing more quickly.
Is there anything we can do to slow down time? Well, novelty helps. The more new things we experience, the more we’ll remember. So if you want to put the brakes on, try something completely different. Take a trip to somewhere brand new, take up a new sport, or try something really memorable, like hang gliding or karaoke. Or take a new route to work, and stop at a new place for coffee. Change up your routine, and see what happens to your sense of time passing.
And keep those eyes open! Just think of how many “snapshots” are lost when you take a nap.