What Do Babies Dream About? [You Will Be Surprised!]

what do babies dream about

Babies dream, just like all humans dream, and just like adults, babies’ dreams can be sweet or bad ones, which is why you might notice the baby smiling or crying in their sleep. So, wondering what babies dream about is common, and it will be answered here.

It is normal for babies to show rapid eye movement, their bodies moving, and their mouths making sucking motions when they enter their dream world. If you notice your baby crying during his/her sleeping time, it is most likely because of a bad dream. But there is nothing to worry about. World’s leading experts have shown that there is a very high possibility that a baby dreams about twice as much as an adult.

When Do Babies Begin Dreaming

One of the foremost authorities on pediatric dreaming, psychologist David Foulkes claims that adults frequently misinterpret that their babies’ brains process information just like theirs do.

Foulkes stated that if a creature offers indications that it can sense an existence or all things that closely resemble it, then we are inclined to think that it may dream one as well. Foulkes and other neuroscientists, however, believe that newborns are truly dreamless during their first years of life because of the small number of experiences they have, the lack of developmentally capable brains, weak brain waves, and abstract thinking, which makes it harder for them to imagine things visually.

As it turns out, babies start dreaming after they are two years old. Babies’ dreams, nightmares, or overactive imagination don’t begin until their brains have advanced much past this stage.

What Do Newborns Dream About that Make them Smile?

Neuroscientists arrive at the fairly discouraging result that baby dreams don’t involve a lot of things when Foulkes’ findings on dreaming in children are applied to infants. Babies spend their first stages of sleep being focused elsewhere. Your baby’s brain continues to be active while they are sleeping. Your baby’s brain receives more blood flow during the first stage of their sleep, known as active/light sleep. This is how the brain of your baby develops.

During light sleep, their brains are quite active, and as a result, their bodies frequently respond to this stimulus by Moro reflex, moving, twitching, generating a lot of sounds, and creating facial expressions like grins.

It’s a general consensus that when they grin or chuckle while they sleep, it’s more often than not a reflex rather than a reaction to a dream they are experiencing. For instance, several experts have noted that infants that are in active sleep happen to twitch or grin while they are asleep. Babies that experience this form of sleep may experience uncontrollable body movements. These uncontrollable motions can cause them to grin and smile as they sleep.

What Do Babies Dream About?

Babies don’t have any vivid dreams until they are about two years old. This is mostly because they don’t have a sense of self before that, and they are still learning things. Only after about two years of age will babies start retaining information and, thus, will start having dreams and nightmares. Before that, babies don’t dream about anything.  

Babies and Circadian Rhythms

Since humans are mammals, we are subject to the same set of fundamental “laws” as other animals in this world. In other words, on a primitive level, we detect and respond to environmental signals that are termed zeitgebers, measured inside our bodies, and these cues enable the normal operation of our body clocks and circadian rhythms.

A sophisticated hormonal and chemical network regulates the daily biological activities we go through, including waking up, getting hungry, growing sleepy, and falling asleep. In reaction to factors like light and dark, heat and cold, and, of course, time, these hormonal chemicals are created and released throughout our life.

Because newborns lack a circadian rhythm (everyday sleep cycle), their bodies are not yet conditioned to fall asleep on schedule as adults do. When a newborn is sleepy, they often just sleep, which is a natural aspect of the body’s homeostatic reaction. This is a key factor in why newborn and infant sleep patterns appear to be so erratic in comparison to those of adults.

However, due to the fact that their sleep is still split into a loosely structured sleep cycle that is already present at birth in children, newborns do not experience unstructured sleep. Newborns go through cycles of sleep lasting around 50–60 minutes, during which they are either in quiet sleep or active sleep, with brief transitional stages termed indeterminate sleep. Even less organized sleep is often experienced by preterm newborns, although by the time they come to term, the active-quiet sleeping patterns seem to be evident.

Synchronization of Circadian Rhythm

The synchronization of the circadian rhythm, often known as the day-night cycle, is one of the many ways that infant newborns are quickly adjusting to their surroundings outside the womb. Newborns start to react strongly to variations in brightness and the day-night cycle during the course of the first four months.

The earliest signs of the circadian rhythm begin to show up at approximately 2-3 months, although they often do not completely mature until the start of the second year. It’s crucial to experience these variations in brightness throughout the day in order to develop the circadian rhythm. There is a discussion regarding whether it is advantageous for babies to share the same bed or room as their parents, with newer research pointing to the benefits that infants gain from sleeping in a separate room.

Babies and REM Sleep

REM is an abbreviation for Rapid Eye Movement. It is so named since, during this stage of sleep, babies’ eyes travel fast in various directions as a result of brain activity, which is why dreams occur. Although dreams can occur throughout other sleep stages, REM dreams are typically the most realistic. Babies sleep a lot, and thus more than half of their sleep is REM sleep. According to estimates, babies spend half to 70% of their sleeping in the REM cycle. That amounts to 8 to 11 REM hours each day on average.

REM rapid eye movement sleep declines as we become older. Adults and children both spend between 15% and 20% of their sleep time in the REM period. That amounts to only 90 to 120 minutes of REM sleep per night.

Importance of REM Rapid Eye Movement Sleep

Everyone needs to get REM sleep, but babies need it more than anyone.

Even if it doesn’t seem relaxing, the REM stage of sleep is crucial, especially for young children. REM advantages:

  • Knowledge and memory: Research has revealed that without the assistance of REM sleep, individuals struggle to retain knowledge in their short- and long-term memory. Babies learn a lot every day, so it’s crucial that their brains have enough time to comprehend everything.
  • Mental development: Neural connections play a critical role in your baby’s brain development. According to research, brain connections go into overdrive during the REM sleep period, which means that REM sleep fosters growth. 
  • Mood: It is thought that REM sleep and coping strategies are related. Your newborn needs to learn coping mechanisms since they will help in everything from speech to executive performance.

REM Sleep Stages

Stage 1

The first phase of sleep that we are all familiar with, during which you may feel yourself nodding off but don’t actually feel like you need to go to sleep immediately.

Stage 2:

This phase is considered the actual ‘true sleep’ phase. The person in this phase only realizes that they fell asleep when someone wakes them up.

Stage 3:

This is the period of sleep that is deep and restorative. The body begins to recover and regenerate the immune system, muscular tissues, and energy storage and ignites growth and development, sometimes referred to as “slow wave” sleep.

Stage 4:

This is when the actual REM sleep begins. Here, the brain begins to take over and compile knowledge and memories from the previous day. Additionally, the majority of our dreaming occurs during this phase of sleep.

Know Your Baby’s Sleep Pattern

Know Your Baby's Sleep Pattern

Some infants sleep more frequently than others. While some newborns sleep for considerable stretches of time, others just sleep briefly. Your infant will follow their own pattern and most likely differ greatly from other babies you are acquainted with. Additionally, it is quite rare that their sleep schedule will coincide with yours. When babies are born, they lack self-awareness about how to wake up after getting enough sleep or how to go to sleep when they have become exhausted. It will take a while because this is all acquired behavior.

Daytime naps will progressively become shorter and nighttime sleep will increasingly get longer between the ages of one and three months. Just keep in mind that each baby develops at a different rate, so this timetable does not guarantee that your child will be sleeping throughout the night or for extended amounts of time by the time they are three months old. A few details on newborn babies’ sleeping habits could be helpful to keep in mind:

  • Every newborn is different.

Some newborns are able to go to sleep quickly and soundly, while others struggle. You will most certainly receive a ton of advice from family members and friends if your infant isn’t sleeping well. Even while some of this will be beneficial and well-intentioned, hearing a wide range of viewpoints can occasionally be distressing. Try to have faith in your own judgment. You will eventually figure out what aids in your baby’s nap and what will not.

  • Babies spend the majority of the day asleep.

There isn’t much of a sleep schedule in a newborn infant. Your infant will snooze for up to 18 hours every day. They can often sleep for periods of two to four hours. Don’t stress about keeping your house quiet while your baby sleeps if you aren’t sleeping at the exact same time as them. It’s wise to get your infant accustomed to sleeping through some noise.

  • Infants might have trouble sleeping.

Babies frequently wake up. This happens because they spend around half of their sleep duration in the Rapid Eye Movement phase. They wander about during this light, active slumber, dream, and may even wake up whimpering. Don’t stress over this. Fewer REM segments and deeper, peaceful segments of sleep will be experienced by your kid as they develop and mature.

  • Infants can make noise while sleeping.

It’s typical for your infant to make a lot of noise when sleeping. They frequently cry, cough, breathe irregularly, and grunt. This is largely owing to the fact that their gastrointestinal and respiratory processes are still developing, making it slightly more difficult for them to swallow and breathe.

  • Young children mix up day and night.

It was entirely dark and they most likely spent most of the day sleeping when your kid was inside the womb. They will be less nocturnal as they become used to life outside the womb. It might be beneficial to try to show your baby the distinction between night and day. Try keeping the lights dim at night and lifting the blinds during the day. It’s possible this won’t make an impact till your kid is a few months old.

How to Improve Your Baby’s Sleep

  1. Establish a regular, relaxing nighttime routine. Your newborn may find it challenging to fall asleep in the evening if they have been overstimulated.
  2. Put your infant to bed, sleepy but awake. Your baby will come to associate nighttime with the process of sleeping.
  3. Give your infant some time to calm down. Prior to settling into a comfortable posture and nodding off, your baby may fuss or cry. That is very natural.
  4. Think about a pacifier. A pacifier could help your infant fall asleep if they have problems doing so.
  5. Don’t fuss with evening care. Use gentle lighting, a quiet voice, and steady motions when your infant needs food or attention during the night.

Know That It Will Take Time

Always remember that babies have a different sleep cycle from adults. For the first few months, you might happen to be confused and wonder about the baby’s sleep, but once your baby comes of age, things will start getting normal on their own. If you still think that there are certain abnormalities with the baby’s sleep or dreams, consult a doctor. They might give you some sleep medicine for little kids.

Stephanie Edenburgh

I'm Steph, a mom to 3 beautiful children and lover all things having to do with my family and being a mom. I've learned a lot raising my own children and working in education and healthcare roles throughout my career. Living in beautiful Southern California I enjoy documenting and writing about all of the hard work us mom's do on a daily basis.

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