Do Babies Dream? Unpacking the Mystery of Baby Dreams

photo by: @happilyeveralbertson

Do babies dream? As you watch your little one slumber, you may wonder what’s happening to make their bodies twitch, their eyelids flutter, and send changing expressions darting across their face.

In truth, baby sleep is a bit of a mystery. Can babies have bad dreams? What do babies dream about when they cry? When they smile?  Research suggests that babies’ dreams are a reflection of their experiences throughout the day. While what exactly is happening behind those closed eyelids is anyone’s guess, scientists have speculated that sleeping babies are dreaming about the sensations, faces, and sounds they’ve encountered during the day, and that dreaming aids their cognitive development and emotional processing. 

In this guide, we explore the changes that are going on while your baby is in dreamland—and why healthy sleep is so important. Of course, if your baby has trouble falling asleep, what they’re dreaming about might be the last thing on your mind. If that’s the case, these strategies can help your newborn sleep better and longer.  

Do Babies Dream? The Role of REM Sleep in Dreams and Early Development

You’ve undoubtedly heard about REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, the stage of sleep most closely associated with dreaming in adults. During this time, the brain is highly active processing the day’s experiences and consolidating memories, and your body is active too: your eyes twitch, your heart rate speeds up, and breathing is irregular.

Compared to adults, who spend an estimated 20-25% of their sleep in REM, newborns are in the REM cycle about 50% of the time they are asleep. Researchers believe that this higher percentage of REM sleep is crucial for brain development, as it is during this stage that your baby’s brain is processing sensory experiences and forming new neural connections that are essential for the development of the central nervous system. It’s also believed that REM sleep plays a role in regulating emotions, aiding in your baby’s emotional resilience and stability. 

If you watch them sleep, you’ll be able to tell when babies start dreaming and have cycled into REM sleep: you may notice their eyes moving rapidly back and forth under their eyelids, and they may twitch or jerk their arms and legs and smile or cry out in their sleep.

To support healthy sleep for your baby and maximize the benefits of REM sleep, create a calm and consistent sleeping environment that’s free from disturbances and conducive to rest. You may find that tools like the MamaRoo Sleep® Bassinet, which mimics the natural motions parents make to soothe their babies, can aid in healthy sleep by helping your baby fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. 

What Do Babies Dream About?

While it's been scientifically established that older children and adults are processing their daily experiences when they dream, what newborn babies dream about—and if they even do dream—remains a mystery. The dreams of older children and adults involve complex narratives and reflections about daily life, but young babies aren’t experiencing the world in the same way. Their waking interactions are mostly sensory driven, consisting of sights, sounds, touches, and basic emotions, which researchers believe is forming the content of their dreams. 

Although you may find yourself wondering what do babies dream about, keep in mind that it’s really only feasible to understand what happens when your child sleeps when they’re old enough to talk and describe their experiences. Until then, any answer to the question “do babies dream?” is speculative.

Can Babies Have Bad Dreams?

Remember, too, that even though your baby may startle in their sleep or wake up crying, the Pediatric Sleep Council says it's unlikely that they are actually having nightmares, as their understanding of fear is not developed at this young age.  Nightmares usually peak when kids are between 3 and 6 years old If you think your baby is having a nightmare or a night terror, what you’re witnessing is more likely a newborn reflex, like the Moro (“startle”) reflex which is a normal response to sudden stimuli and not an indication of distress or fear.

While you can’t ever know for certain what your baby dreams about, what you can do is create a calm sleep environment that aids in smoother sleep experiences. The 4moms® MamaRoo Sleep® Bassinet can be a valuable aid in your baby’s sleep journey: with 5 parent-inspired motions, 5 speeds, and 4 white noise options, it makes it easy to find the ultimate soothing combination to help comfort and support your baby. And when you’re traveling, you can count on the removable bassinet on the 4moms® Breeze® Plus Playard to help your baby rest anywhere you go.

4moms Makes Sweeter Sleep Happen

The exact answer to the questions of “do newborn babies dream?”, “when do babies start dreaming?”, and “what do babies dream about when they smile?”, might always be a mystery but one thing that’s certain is that in most cases your baby’s sleep habits are not a cause for concern. Normal sleep patterns in babies can vary widely: some infants may sleep soundly through the night, while others wake frequently. This variation is normal and can differ from one baby to another.  

As your baby grows and develops, their sleep patterns will evolve. If you need help navigating your baby’s sleep, there are products and services to make the journey easier, from items that encourage a bedtime routine to personalized gifts that make your home feel like a haven.