Babies spend between 12 and 18 hours asleep every day. But what’s going on during this time? Do they dream? And, if so, what do babies dream about?
If we’re completely honest, a big question mark still surrounds all things baby dreaming.
Firstly, we’re not sure if they do it at all—at least in the same way as we do as adults.
Then, we don’t really know when babies start dreaming (again, if they do it at all). And we’re definitely in the dark about what these dreams might mean.
But here, we’re talking you through what we do know about what’s happening inside your baby’s sleeping brain. So, what do babies dream about? Let’s find out.
In this article: 📝
- Do babies dream?
- What do babies dream about?
- What kind of dreams do babies have?
- Why do babies smile in their sleep?
- What do baby dreams mean?
Do babies dream?
During those many hours of baby sleep, you may have noticed your baby’s eyes fluttering or their body twitching and wriggling.
It would be fair to assume that all these movements are the adorable signs of a dreaming baby.
Out of the 12 to 18 hours a day that babies sleep, they tend to spend about half in REM sleep — the stage of sleep known as rapid eye movement.
In adults, this is when our brains are working hard to consolidate memories.
Our brains become incredibly active during REM sleep and this is when we dream most of our dreams.
But is this the same for babies? Well, we just don’t know.
The science of dreaming is not well known in adults — let alone our little ones.
Some scientists think that babies just don’t have enough mental material to work with to create imaginative dreams that involve places and things.
But it’s difficult to know that for sure because a baby can’t describe these dreams to us.
Instead, some doctors believe that babies use their REM sleep for their brain to develop, which will help them build memories, learn languages and skills, and understand the world in the future.
And all of this will help them dream when the time comes.
➡️ Find out more: When Do Babies Start Dreaming?
What do babies dream about?
It could be that babies’ brains are not yet developed enough to paint the pictures that we adults know as dreams.
It could be that they aren’t really dreaming very much at all. Or maybe they’re enjoying secret worlds that we adults can’t possibly imagine.
The truth is that we just don’t know what babies are dreaming about. But that hasn’t stopped us from doing some guesswork:
What kind of dreams do babies have?
We can probably assume at least that the dreams babies do have are a little different from our own.
So, baby dreams probably aren’t the spaces of anxiety, joy, romance, terror, excitement, or just pure weirdness that adult dreams can be.
In fact, some doctors argue that babies can’t have bad dreams because they simply don’t understand the idea of fear just yet.
While babies can be startled or feel alone, they don’t have the imaginative ideas that create things like nightmares.
Put simply, the idea of the monster under the bed doesn’t particularly bother them. All that comes a little later.
It’s not until the age of about seven, psychologist David Foulkes argues, that children start having the story-like dreams that adults are used to.
Before that, dreams are just static images, if they happen at all.
But really, the jury is still out on baby dreams.
While researchers such as Foulkes say age seven is when dreams start, other researchers say that they could be happening already by the age of two.
And our attempts to find out aren’t helped by the fact that babies are such wonderfully difficult things to study.
As one writer put it, “the problem is that getting inside the head of a baby is like deciphering the thoughts of a kitten.
And a wriggly three-month-old who is just as interested in the ceiling tiles as what’s on the screen doesn’t always make for the best research subject.”
What do babies dream about in the womb?
We don’t actually have much evidence that babies dream in the womb.
But some researchers speculate that babies have REM sleep and are dreaming while still just a peanut.
The chances are, though, that these “dreams” are very different from what we adults know as dreams.
Most likely, the baby is simply processing all of those strange new sensations that they feel in the womb — and what’s going through their heads may not really be recognizable as dreams at all.
What do newborn babies dream about?
Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of evidence that newborn babies dream about anything either.
Instead, they’re probably busy using their many hours of sleep to develop their brain and create the neural pathways that will help them later in life.
That means that no, probably they’re not imagining sheep prancing around meadows.
However, it could also be that we haven’t fully appreciated what babies are capable of.
➡️ Read more: Can Babies Have Nightmares?
Why do babies smile in their sleep?
So, if they’re not dreaming, how come your baby looks so busy in their sleep — wriggling, twitching, even smiling and laughing?
A lot of what you might see your little one doing while sleeping is usually a reflex. That includes smiles.
Most doctors believe that means there’s probably no emotion attached to the smiles.
Although adorably cute, it’s probably your baby just moving their muscles involuntarily.
Either way, though, enjoy those nocturnal smiles!
➡️ Read more: When Do Babies Start Smiling?
What do baby dreams mean?
With so much uncertainty about whether or not babies dream in the first place, psychologists and dream analysts haven’t dug into the details of what individual baby dreams mean.
But all those reflexes and smiles probably mean that your baby is developing exactly how they should be.
By the way, if you’re looking for the meaning in your own dreams, you may want to give this a read: Vivid Dreams During Pregnancy: What Does It Mean?
Sweet dreams, mama!
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