Slow Mental Clock

Something I’ve noticed when I get tired is that my internal mental clock seems to slow down. I don’t just mean that it takes me longer to do things, I mean my actual perception of time seems to change.

It’s a fairly well established fact that humans have neurons in their brains that fire at a very regular rate; presumably, these both manage regular processes (like a heartbeat, or the contractions of your intestines) and provide your perception of time. Basically, it’s this that lets your brain estimate how long something takes…if the neurons fire, say, 400 times, then it’s been ten seconds.

When I’m tired, things seem faster to me. You might have experienced this pulling an all-nighter: you look down, type a sentence, and look up…and twenty minutes have gone by. I think that’s just falling asleep in the middle, though. What I’m talking about is listening to music and thinking it sounds abnormally fast. I’ve even been to lecture once and thought “wow, this lecture is going very quickly”, then realized that I must not be processing at my usual rate.

It makes sense if you think of the clock neurons as actually firing less. Say I’m tired, and I only get 360 fires in ten seconds. That means that to me, it’ll feel like nine seconds have passed, but ten seconds of stuff has happened! Music would seem faster, for sure. And if I managed to adjust my perception back to regular, I’d still feel like all of my thought processes were moving slowly.

Or…maybe it’s all in my head. Uh, I mean, maybe I’m making it all up. Has anyone else experienced this?

Maybe I’m just tired.

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