Babies spend a lot of their days and, hopefully!, nights sleeping, which begs the question – do they spend any of that time dreaming? And, if so, what are they dreaming about?
It’s kind of hard to know for sure since babies can’t really report back on what they see when they close their eyes. But infants do spend a big chunk of time – roughly 50% of their sleep – in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, aka when dreams happen. Adults, on the other hand, only spend about 25% of their sleep in REM. If babies are dreaming during that time, though, their dreams are likely very different from our own.
“Since infants don’t have language, their dreams probably consist of imagery without any dialogue,” Jodi Mindell, associate director of the Sleep Center at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, tells Parenting.com.
And, while you might dream of winning an Oscar or flying over a field of glazed donuts, your baby doesn’t yet have the skills necessary to dream in that way.
“Vivid dreams with structured narratives set in at age 7 or 8, around the same time children develop a clear understanding of their own identity,” Live Science reports. “Researchers think self-awareness is necessary for the insertion of the self into dreams.”
As for nightmares, little ones won’t experience those until toddler or preschool ages when imaginations really kick into high gear.
If infants aren’t able to dream about themselves or come up with intricate plotlines involving donuts, what’s the point of all that time spent in REM sleep then? Well, that time actually matters a great deal. REM sleep, also known as active sleep, is crucial when it comes to learning and development. As Live Science points out, “neuroscientists believe REM sleep serves a completely different role in newborns and infants: It allows their brains to build pathways, become integrated and, later, helps them develop language.”
And, according to AskDrSears.com, during REM “blood flow to the brain nearly doubles” and “the body increases its manufacture of certain nerve proteins, the building blocks of the brain.”
So even if your baby isn’t dreaming exactly like you, they’re still doing quite a bit during dreamtime.