Do babies dream? What do babies dream about?
Short answer: We do not yet know the answer on whether babies dream, and if so, what their dreams consist of.But, considering the amount of time they spend in REM phase of sleep, and the fact that their small universe does offer significant amounts of stimulus, it is reasonable to assume that they might be dreaming, probably something as pure and innocent as they themselves are.
Have you ever held a baby in your arms? Nothing seems more tranquil and calm, than a sleeping baby.
But have you ever wondered – What is actually happening behind closed curtains? Are they dreaming?
Baby Sleep Cycles
In order to understand dreams, we have to understand how sleep cycles work.
Human sleep is divided in two cycles:
- REM (Rapid Eye Movement), also called “active sleep”
- Non-REM (deep sleep, body uses it to rebuild tissue, and to strengthen immune system)
REM phase of sleep is where the dreams are made – literally.
According to scientists from Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School:
“During REM sleep, muscles in the arms and legs are temporarily paralyzed. This is thought to be a barrier that prevents us from “acting out” in our dreams.”
Babies spend a lot more time in REM sleep than we do. While we spend about 20% of the night in REM sleep, babies spend up to 50%!
During REM phase, sleep is lighter, more active, and we wake more easily, as well as in the first two stages of Non-REM sleep.
This is the answer to why babies wake many times at night, and have too short naps.
Even though babies spend so much time in REM sleep, we are still not certain whether they really dream.
Generally, we dream things that are familiar to us (people, places, experiences, etc), but if babies didn’t have such experiences, how can they dream about them?
David Foulkes, one of the world’s leading experts on child dreaming, claims that dreaming is a process that starts in early childhood, when child acquires the ability to imagine things visually and spatially.
What do babies dream about?
But, there is the other point of view on whether babies dream and what do babies dream about:
“Since infants don’t have language, their dreams probably consist of imagery without any dialogue”
asserts Dr Jodi Mindell, associate director of The Sleep Centre at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
For instance, passive image of something they have seen that day, a face, some shape, or a toy.
According to this theory, their dreams are plain, emotionless, without moving or acting characters, and no memories. Baby’s universe is full of things worthy of dreaming, although they don’t have the ability to understand it.
What are night terrors?
Night terrors are quite mysterious. Most of the people think they are the same as a bad dream, but in fact, they aren’t.
Nightmares often happen in the early morning hours (during REM phase), while night terrors usually happen in the first two or three hours of sleep (during Non-REM phase).
Sudden awakening from sleep, screaming, constant fear or terror that happens at night, confusion, sweating and increased heart rate are the usual symptoms of night terrors.
Many people see snakes, spiders, or even people in the room, they are unable to fully awake, and they have no memory of the event when they wake up in the morning.
But is your baby experiencing night terrors?
The answer is – probably no!
True night terrors usually happen to preadolescents and adolescents (10 to 18 years old), even though it is possible for younger kids to experience similar events, and certainly, everyone is unique.
The good thing is that if your baby or toddler seems to be having a night terror, presumably it is just a confusing dream in which he isn’t truly frightened.
On the other hand, nightmares usually occur when child turns 5, they last until he/she turns 10, and after that they don’t tend to happen very often.
There is some evidence to suggest that night terrors may result from lack of sleep. In these cases, it can be extremely helpful to improve the quality and amount of sleep your child is getting.
Do babies have nightmares?
No. Children don’t develop fears until they turn 2 or 3.
Dr Jodi Mindell claims:
“Until then, it’s very unlikely that a baby would have a scary dream.”
Sleep during the first months of your baby’s life helps its brain grow and process all those information that life brings.
At any age, sleep helps us strengthen and improve our memory, which results in integration of our experiences and increasing of our knowledge. As babies go through the same process, the importance of sleeping cannot be overstated.
In conclusion, we do not yet know the answer on whether babies dream, and if so, what their dreams consist of.
But, considering the amount of time they spend in REM phase of sleep, and the fact that their small universe does offer significant amounts of stimulus, it is reasonable to assume that they might be dreaming, probably something as pure and innocent as they themselves are.