To try and explain the situation the best I can imagine one of those sci-fi/fantasy situations where whenever someone is asleep they can experience new things. Whether they somehow end up in some dream world whenever they fall asleep or are plugged into some kind of virtual reality device, that person can spend days in this other world while only hours pass for them in the "real world".

My understanding of human psychology and its development isn't great, but I can notice a weird issue immediately. If the "dream reality" experiences flow at the same rate as real life (1 hour passes in the dream for every hour outside) and biological benefits of sleep still apply during this time, then a person can healthily stay conscious 24/7.

Being generous (and because it makes the numbers easier to handle), assuming that one typically sleeps for 8 hours a day, that means 1/3rd of a day is spent unconscious and thus not gaining new experiences or having time to think about the experiences they have. Five years in real time would have over eight years of experienced time, ten years would have over sixteen, and so on. Even at a 1/1 rate, you are effectively accelerating how many experiences you can obtain in a year while your body ages normally.

But if the dream reality had an accelerated time compared to the real world, such as 4 hours of dream time for every hour of real time, then things get weird. Still assuming eight hours of sleep a day, that eight hours that would be spent unconscious is replaced with 32 hours of experiences. Adding on the sixteen hours spent awake, you would effectively have two days of experience packed into one day.

And looking at it another way. If one normally spends 2/3rds of the day awake, then this "two days in one" situation means a person is awake for 6/3rds of a day (if that makes sense). Meaning they are actually experiencing 3 times as much as they would if they were unconscious while asleep. Five years of this would be the equivalent of fifteen years, ten years the same as thirty. Even while, biologically speaking, the body ages at the slow rate of one year every year.

With that in mind, what would happen when someone who isn't biologically mature goes through this? During this accelerated time where they never truly sleep, they can live, learn, and mature faster than their body would grow. For a child who starts the 24 hours in 24 hours situation when they were five years old, by age ten they would effectively have over thirteen years of life experience, by fifteen it would be over twenty. If they get the 48 hours in 24 instead, then by age ten they would have the life experience of a twenty-year-old. By fifteen they would be thirty-five.

Would their mental/psychological development go by just as fast? Probably not fully since there are biological elements that need to develop in real-time. I imagine it would be like a patchwork, where some areas and aspects of that child were more mature for their biological age in some areas while staying appropriate for their biological age in others. But I haven't a clue about those would be and I'd like to know.

Likewise, if an adolescent started doing this, what would it like for their mental/psychological development be like in these circumstances?

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    $\begingroup$ During this accelerated time where they never truly sleep, they can live, learn, and mature faster than their body would grow. Is it a handwaving setup for your story or do you ask "what would really happen if an adolescent forgoes actual sleep"? $\endgroup$ Apr 7, 2020 at 7:54
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    $\begingroup$ Physiological effects of sleep deprivation include: "confusion, memory lapses or loss", "seizures", "violent behavior", "mania", "symptoms similar to: attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and psychosis". If you don't handwave a super-teenager into the picture, attempting for "a person [to] healthily stay conscious 24/7" will result in a death person. Those neurotransmitters need a period to replenish, those cells need to repair the oxidative damages, etc... the entire body - brain included - needs sleep $\endgroup$ Apr 7, 2020 at 8:11
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    $\begingroup$ Sleep is not some sort of useless luxury. Sleep is biologically necessary, just as eating food or drinking water. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Apr 7, 2020 at 9:17
  • $\begingroup$ Okay, I think I understand what you're saying. Without something to address it, the mind by necessity cannot constantly stay active due to the needs of the brain along with the rest of the body. $\endgroup$
    – Necrikus
    Apr 7, 2020 at 19:38
  • $\begingroup$ Fantasy stories that use this sort of trope can get away with this, but it's harder to justify for a science fiction piece, but then again that's usually the case. $\endgroup$
    – Necrikus
    Apr 7, 2020 at 19:39

1 Answer 1


Sleep is indeed necessary but not exactly because the "neurotransmitters need to regenerate" like some people suggested. Yes, it is a period of rest, but the brain is far from inactive. Still, 24/7 in an "awake" state would still only be possible in a fantasy setting and I think the best you could do with "science" would be to tap into 2-3 hours every night to move the REM phase into this virtual environment.

Now to the initial question about psychology: Character, Psychology and mental development are simply not only a result of "age", but also of physical development. Every child undergoes several brain development phases that mark characteristic points in the mental development and CAN't be accelerated by the use of a time-acceleration or sleep-utilizing virtual environment!!! A child under 4 years old will still be unable to recognize order people as living breathing humans that are the same as itself, no matter how long it spends in a time acceleration environment since its brain has simply not developed the capacity to do so. More interestingly, most children show distinct psychopathic and sociopathic behaviour before reaching maturity between 18 and 24 years of age - and would still do so even if they spend 5 years somewhere in the middle of that in a "time accelerated" state.

This COULD make for an interesting narrative, as they would still be able to learn, adapt and "mature" in this state while lacking several core functions of adult human beings, leading to experienced and knowledgeable children that are unable to grasp the consequences of their actions, lack risk-calculating capabilities and act in a mostly radical egocentric manner... in short, they would be real assholes.

To summarize: attaining knowledge and experience is simply a matter of how much time you put in and what experiences you have had since you were born, BUT character, empathy and social behaviour on the other hand are primarily based on the phase of brain development and can't be accelerated. In practice I believe this would lead to a divergence of perceived "life-experience and knowledge" and "actual mental maturity" that would manifest in altered social behaviour and personality (most likely not in a good way though...)

  • $\begingroup$ This is of course only true if the acceleration tech isn’t effecting large scale changes to the brain but only messing with memories while somehow warping the brain’s perception of time. If it’s actually accelerating brain development to allow new connections to form (can this machine alter speech centres to learn a new language, for example) then it’s possible the machine could force these developments to happen. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Apr 15, 2020 at 10:35
  • $\begingroup$ I guess that argument is valid to some extent, but not entirely. The brain development can't be accelerated by having children learn a lot, so it is implausible for it to solely depend on "intake of information" to introduce changes. It is more closely tied to genetics and hormone levels in my opinion. BUT, if you somehow manage to trick the body so that it thinks its older than it actually is... then maybe! It could also be that it is already developing constantly and simply needs time to implement changes. $\endgroup$ Apr 15, 2020 at 14:45

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