Do Babies Dream?

Dreaming Like a Baby

As you watch your baby sleep, you may be wondering whether she's dreaming and what she's dreaming about. Is she dreaming about you? Or about all the new things she saw that day? If you've ever wondered what's going on in that pretty head of hers when she's fast asleep, here are some clues.

Babies Likely Do Dream

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In 2005, Dr. Charles P. Pollak, director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell hospital in New York, told the New York Times that babies do indeed dream. "Yes, as far as we can tell," Dr. Pollak told the newspaper. Dr. Pollak explained that most dreaming occurs during a stage of sleep called REM, which stands for rapid eye movement, and that REM occurs during all stages of life, including when a fetus is still in her mother's womb and after birth. According to Dr. Pollak, there's "no question" that newborn infants have REM sleep. He pointed out that babies can be observed having rapid eye movement when they sleep, with their eyes moving from side to side and to a lesser frequency, up and down. Since babies have REM sleep and dreaming occurs during REM, Dr. Pollak said that there's "a well-based inference" that babies are dreaming during their REM sleep.

What Babies Dream About

Yet while Dr. Pollak was sure that babies sleep, he couldn't give an answer as to what babies dream about. He pointed out that since babies can't yet verbally communicate, there's no way to really find out what babies dream about. But there may be some clues. Dr. Pollak explained that there is some evidence that the direction of eye movement during REM sleep corresponds in a vague way with the person is dreaming about. For example, if the person is dreaming about walking in a field, the eye movement is most likely horizontal. If the person is dreaming about climbing stairs or looking up at a building, the eye movement is most likely vertical.

So the next time your baby sleeps, see if his eye movements are side to side or up and down. If it's up and down, then maybe he's dreaming about all the tall buildings in your city that he saw during your walk in the morning. If the eye movement is side to side, perhaps he's thinking about how you just rocked him sideways in your arms.

What babies dream about may change as they get older. An article that was published in the April 1995 issue of the medical journal Medical Hypotheses stated that during REM sleep when dreaming occurs, the brain is processing stored memory. Since the memory of a newborn infant is mostly made up of what happened when it was a fetus, the infant is likely to dream about its life in the womb.

For example, if your baby is a newborn infant, she may be dreaming about her life when she was still in your stomach. Maybe she's dreaming about hearing the lullabies that you sang during pregnancy. If your baby is older, for example 8 months old, then she may be dreaming about what happened a few days before or earlier that day when she was awake.

If you want your baby to have pleasant dreams, make the environment that he grows up in as loving and peaceful as much as possible. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), dreaming may be a way to help people process their emotions. The institute further states that events that happened earlier in the day often seep into people's dreams, with people who are stressed out and have anxiety more likely to have scary dreams.

Helping Your Baby Sleep and Dream

Unrecognizable young mother with her son in sling

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Adults spend about two hours a night dreaming. Your baby may be spending many more hours of her life dreaming, especially during the first few months of her life, since she sleeps so much more. Babies sleep about 16 hours in a day, with about half of that in REM sleep. Yet as any parent knows, babies, especially in the first few months of life, often have difficulty passing through the various stages of non-REM sleep, which consists of four stages, before they go into REM sleep. Babies may wake up as they go from one stage of sleep to another and have a hard time going back to sleep.

Remember that infants, especially newborn infants, need to wake up every few hours in order to eat since their stomachs are so small. After a few months, some babies may be able to sleep six to eight hours in the night without waking. If you need help getting your baby to sleep through the night, during which he'll hopefully have some pleasant dreams, there are plenty of resources, such as websites, books and sleep professionals, with information and tips on getting your baby to sleep and stay asleep. Just keep in mind that babies' sleep habits vary widely, with some babies not ready to sleep through the night until they get closer to their first birthday. However, if you feel that your baby's lack of sleep is affecting his health and development, contact your baby's doctor to rule out any medical reasons.