While adults spend less than a quarter of their sleep time engaged in dreaming (or REM sleep), a recent study suggests, young babies engage in REM sleep for over 50% of their total sleep time PEMBI Stephen-DAVID writes.
Anyone who has watched a sleeping infant’s eye activity has wondered if babies dream and what they dream about. Babies do, in fact dream, more so than adults. According to Science magazine, babies dream more in the first week of life than they will at any other period in their lives.
As babies grow and their brains mature, the amount of time they spend in the REM state gradually decreases. The REM state is directly linked to brain development. A maturing brain needs less and less REM sleep. This is why adults dream less than babies.
So, we know that babies dream. What do they dream? Do they have nightmares? Science magazine reports that in REM sleep, the visual part of a baby’s brain is more active than that of an adult, so babies have vivid visual dreams. The truth is that there is no way of knowing what babies dream since they are unable to speak or describe their dreams. It would seem that any event or sensation worth crying or smiling about is meaningful enough to dream about.
To get an idea of what a baby dreams about, one must first try to imagine what life for an infant is like. A baby’s world is very different from that of an adult. Imagine being able to only experience sensations and events, not the consequences, rewards, or reasons behind them. Imagine having feelings but being unable to express, interpret, or label them. Imagine being able to attach meaning or identification to only a handful of the thousands of images seen in daily life.
Given this insight, one can speculate as to what a baby dreams about. Anything a baby smiles about or enjoys may be the subject of pleasant dreams. His parents’ faces, the contentment of a full tummy, a warm bath, and memories of playing and laughing earlier in the day are things a baby might dream about. Any visually pleasing image a baby registers during the day might also flicker through his dreaming mind.
Babies have both pleasant and unpleasant dreams. They have nightmares, though a baby’s nightmare is far different from an adult’s. When adults have nightmares, there is usually a large amount of symbolism involved. The subjects of babies’ nightmares must be simple, natural fears, much like the disorientation an adult feels upon waking suddenly in a strange place.
Subjects such as falling, abandonment, pain, loud noises, and loss of security might be what cause a baby to awaken crying.
Birth, for instance is a traumatic event. A baby may have nightmares about the sudden cold, blinding light, and the pain of circumcision and injections he experienced shortly after coming into the world.
Anyone who has ever lightly tossed a baby in the air and then caught him has seen the momentary look of fear and surprise on the little one’s face before he smiles in delight. This fear and surprise might be fodder for a future nightmare.
Anything a baby cries about can be the subject of a bad dream. It might be helpful to mention at this point that when a baby cries in the night, it doesn’t necessarily mean he needs a bottle or diaper. He may have just had a nightmare, which can be consoled by a soothing voice and gentle touch.
To summarise, babies definitely dream, though it is impossible to know exactly what they dream about. All that can be proven is that babies experience large amounts of REM sleep and that they have both good and bad dreams.
It would be amazing to learn just what passes through a baby’s mind, but for that to be possible, he would have to be able to speak and think on an adult level, and that would compromise his angelic innocence.