Mother and Baby

What do babies dream about?

Baby dreaming

Although it might not feel like it, your baby sleeps a lot! At one week old, she’ll be sleeping for 16 hours a day and even 12 months later, she’ll be clocking up 13 hours out of every 24. And during that time, she’s actually dreaming more than you do!

We asked Dr Alan Greene, Professor of Paediatrics at Stanford University to tell us more.

Why do babies dream more than adults?

Professor Greene explains: ‘Just like adults, babies need sleep to restore their bodies and brains. We all go through “sleep cycles”: when we first fall asleep, we’re in light sleep and during this stage it’s easy for us to wake up. Then we start to move into deeper sleep, which is when our brain is resting and recovering, and then we go back towards light sleep again.’ Each of these cycles take about 90 minutes, but your baby’s sleep cycles are much shorter and she moves from light sleep to deep sleep every 50 minutes.

‘Children dream more than adults, but babies dream the most.’ Dr Alan Greene. 

Therefore, because babies have more periods of the light sleep where dreams happen, they dream more than we do. Professor Greene adds: ‘Children dream more than adults, but babies dream the most.’

Can babies dream in the womb?

Amazingly, the answer to this question is yes! Scientists believe that as we enter Rapid Eye Movement sleep (REM), brainwaves suggest this is when we dream. When the brainwaves of unborn babies are measured, results show they get around 10 hours of REM sleep every 24 hours. This declines during the first months of life, and by the time your baby is one, she’ll be having five hours of REM sleep a night.

What do babies dream about?

Of course, there’s no way of asking them to keep a dream diary, but Professor Greene believes ‘dreams help babies make sense of their experiences’. As we know, your baby can hear and smell in the womb, and during the time spent dreaming in the womb, she was processing her amniotic world and trying to make sense of it. This processing carries on when your baby is born, as everything is new and overwhelming.

Dr Greene adds: ‘While our baby can’t tell you what she’s dreaming about, there are clues about the dreams she’s having. The big clue is how your baby behaves when she wakes up. If she’s happy and smiling, she’s probably had a good dream. If she’s fussy and crying, she might have been processing a less happy experiences – maybe being hungry or when she didn’t like the way her Babygro felt.’

How can I tell my baby is dreaming?

These might leave you standing over her cot, but here are three key signs your baby’s dreaming:

  • Twitching: Does your baby twitch when sleeping? Scientists at the University of Iowa think that these tiny movements might reveal which physical skill your baby is working on. So, if she twitches her neck, it might not be long before she’s supporting her head when she’s awake.
  • Smiling: Even in the first month of birth, if you see your baby with a spontaneous smile during sleep, she’s probably enjoying a spot of REM dreaming.
  • Eye movement: She’s definitely dreaming if you can see her eyes moving rapidly beneath her eyelids. Scientists at Tel Aviv University have discovered that as our eyes flicker quickly back and forth in our sleep, the scenes in our dreams are changing.

How can I help my child deal with bad dreams?

Dr Greene tells us: ‘we think that bad dreams tend to be most common in children aged between three and six. By this age a child’s imagination has taken off and they can think about things that they haven’t actually sensed themselves. They are also developing a sense of fear.

‘Nightmares help children make sense of things they’re anxious about and one of the best things you can do is help your child to process them. Once they are old enough, get them to draw pictures of bad dreams and tell you what’s happening. Encourage them to find a positive at the end of the story.’

Remember, all dreams, good and bad are serving a purpose and growing your little one’s brain. Dreams help children to make sense of the world – the perfect excuse to get them to sleep earlier tonight!

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