This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation
Babies: They’re just like us. They eat, play, and sleep. In fact, babies thrive on quality sleep as it directly affects their mental and physical wellbeing. As for what’s going on in their heads during those hours of crib time, it’s also not so different than what happen when you sleep: dreams.
Wonder what babies dream about? Understanding the stages of sleep and what happens during each can give you some insight into the dreams your baby might be having.
How Sleep Cycles Work
Your mind doesn’t shut down completely when you go to sleep at night—and neither does your baby’s. Researchers have determined that both babies’ and adults’ brains experience patterns of activity during the two stages of sleep we cycle through each night. These are called non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and REM sleep.
What Happens During REM
Every night, adults pass through several phases of REM sleep, each of which can last up to an hour. It’s often during the last REM cycle that the brain becomes most active. During this time, your breathing may quicken, your eye lids tend to flutter, and you might wake up remembering a dream you just had. Newborns spend about half of their time in the REM phase, but by six months of age, REM sleep makes up just 30 percent of a baby’s sleep.
Infants can be rather active—even restless—at night. You might see your baby smiling, or flailing her arms and legs. Or you could overhear some sucking and lip-smacking noises. These movements often take place during REM, or the dream phase of sleep.
Soothing a Little Dreamer
Your baby may startle awake during either stage of sleep. Although it’s not clear if infants, toddlers, and older children may occasionally experience nightmares during their REM phases that cause them to wake. Settling a baby back to sleep after being awoken by a dream can take a little time. You might try holding your infant in a soft blanket and rocking back and forth gently, as this type of movement mimics the motion felt in the womb. Although your baby can’t communicate about a scary dream, you can still offer reassurance that everything is ok by speaking gently and keeping your own body relaxed.