How does our sense of time work?


Whether I set a 5-minute timer, a 15-minute timer, or a 30-minute timer, I always seem to instinctually know when it’s about to go off within 1-3 minutes of the correct time. I’m not counting, I just get this strong urging and knowledge in my head that it’s almost up.

This is in opposition to when I was in Kindergarten (I think), when I was baffled at the concept of having a sense of time. I couldn’t tell how long anything had taken numerically without counting it directly.


Of course, when it comes to 5-minute timers, my accuracy is closer to me knowing 10 seconds beforehand.

In: 3

Answer: I feel as though it’s because we are more attuned to it. We are aware that we have a deadline / alarm and our brain subconsciously tracks it.

What you’re talking about here is called “time perception” and it’s a suuuper complicated subject. I don’t fully understand it myself, but basically, your brain and body use a lot of systems in unison to determine time perception, either through things like your sleep-wake cycle, which repeats roughly every 24 hours, or smaller scale perception, like what you’re asking about here.

In the end, it depends a lot on how much you train your brain to pay attention to those timeframes. If you’re used to doing things in a 5-minute span for example, your brain will get used to knowing when 5 minutes have passed. If you always wake up at the exact same time, your brain will start to predict that, which is why some people find themselves waking up a few minutes before their alarm goes off, their brain is trained to expect it. Bull riders are known to be really good at determining when 8 seconds have passed, since that’s how long a bull ride lasts.

As it stands tho, we don’t really know a lot about time perception for sure, and most lf what we do know is super complicated, so I hope this satisfies your curiosity a bit!

There’s a lot of things going on in your body that helps it keep track of time. While the process is not really known, some concrete examples of things that helps with keeping track of time is your heartbeat pace as well as the pace of your own idle thoughts.

The pace of your thoughts is an interesting one. You know the phrase, “Time flies when you’re having fun?” It’s from doing a lot of things at once and believing that you’re processing thoughts so much faster, and you end up feeling that only a little time has passed when actually whole hours flew by. You don’t have to have fun, stress from work may also do the trick XD