Why does time go so fast when you’re asleep?

Time flies when you're having fun - maybe that's why we like sleeping so much...

7th February 2016
Why does time go so fast when you’re asleep? (iStock)

Asked by: Pearl Goodwin, Lewes

Does it? Generally this is not true, and most people are good at judging how many hours they’ve slept. Some can even tell themselves to wake up at a specific time and do so. Time perception can be distorted, though, and experiments show that estimates are generally good, but people tend to overestimate time passed during the early hours of sleep and underestimate during the later hours. Time estimations during dreaming are much more variable and some people claim to have dreamt a whole lifetime in one dream.

However, the best experiments to test this come from those very rare people who can induce lucid dreams (knowing they are dreaming) at will, and then signal to experimenters to indicate what they are doing in the dream. When asked to count to 100 while dreaming or while awake, the times taken match closely. And when asked to estimate how long a dream event took, those estimates are accurate. So if time does go fast when you are asleep, you are unusual! 


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