Do Babies Dream When They’re Asleep?

You see your baby’s eyelids flutter as they sleep. Your baby smiles. Their breathing changes, their breath catches, and you can’t help but wonder: Is my baby dreaming? 

According to the Sleep Foundation, newborn babies need between 14-17 hours of sleep a day, and infants between 4-11 months of age need upwards of 12-15 hours. 

With all the time babies spend sleeping, it makes sense to assume that their minds are actively working during the night. Not only that, but 50 percent of the sleep they’re getting can be classified as REM sleep, which is the stage of human sleep cycles when the body is most relaxed and the brain is most active (which provides perfect conditions for dreams to occur). 

But despite spending all this nurturing time in REM sleep, dreaming does not seem to be the top priority for your baby’s brain.

So Do Babies Dream When They Sleep? 

baby sleeping peacefully | babybay cosleepers

Leading pediatric dreaming researchers have concluded that children can only dream once they’ve developed the ability to process the world around them and imagine things visually and spatially. Babies’ brains develop as they age, leading them to make use of this skill around age 4 or 5. 

If these research claims are true, then the answer to the question do babies dream when they sleep? is nobabies do not dream. However, we might never know for sure if this is the case, since there’s no way to ask babies directly whether or not their sleeping brains are filled with sugar plums and fairies (their verbal skills just aren’t good enough for that yet!). 

But many of these leading researchers believe that babies spend their time in REM sleep concentrated on doing a more important task than dreaming. 

During these deep rest moments of their sleep cycles, researchers claim, your baby’s brain is busy building neural pathways that will boost their cognitive function and eventually help them learn language.  

Building those neural pathways takes up all their brain energy, leaving dreaming as the last priority. 

When Do Babies First Dream? 

The answer to the question when do babies first dream? partly depends on your little one’s developmental milestones. Most children are actively dreaming by the age of 3, though they experience these dreams very differently than adults do during their sleep in REM.

While adult dreams might feature a full narrative arc with a cast of main characters and complex visual images, infants and toddlers report having dreams that lack a full story structure. The story aspect of dreams arises between the ages of 5 and 7, when their brain development and maturity allows them to experience themes, characters, and actions. 

baby and older child sibling together | babybay cosleepers

Do Babies Have Scary Dreams? 

Because young babies don’t dream, parents don’t have to be worried that their child is experiencing scary dreams during their sleep time. 

Nightmares can be a frequent occurrence for children between the ages of 6 and 10, and there’s a biological reason for this. Though babies aren’t dreaming, the brains of older children come alive with images.. Their amygdala—the part of the brain responsible for emotions like fear—becomes activated during their sleep in REM, while the part of the brain that tempers emotions goes dormant.

Though children are able to experience nightmares as soon as their brains develop the maturity to dream, these become more frequent as they age. Luckily, this stage of frequent nightmares is short-lived. This tendency toward nightmares often disappears as the brain develops and reaches maturity, around the age of 11 or 12. 

How Do I Help My Newborn Baby Get Better Sleep? 

Setting up the right sleep environment is key when you’re helping your little one sleep soundly. Even though babies aren’t having nightmares through the night, they can still have a hard time getting to sleep or can have trouble falling into the deep rest sleep cycle they need. 

Whether you’re caring for a newborn baby, an infant, or an older child, our advice for helping your little ones sleep through the night remains the same. Prepare a bed that’s cozy, but provides the support they need to stay safe while they sleep. Establish a calming bedtime routine that settles them down and clues them in that it’s time to close their eyes. And stay aware of when your little one is sleepy so they can get rest when they need it most. 

That way you’ll help make your little one the happiest baby they can be, while making every moment of their sleep count.

Baby Sleeping on Side, On Stomach, Or On Back? All About Baby Sleep Positions

When it comes to safe sleep positions for newborns, there’s one that reigns supreme: putting babies to sleep on their back. 

But up until late in the 20th century, there weren’t firm recommendations on what positions best supported baby’s safe and nurturing sleep. That all changed in 1988, when medical societies in the Netherlands began claiming that stomach sleeping could lead to health and safety concerns for newborns. 

By 1994, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) unrolled the Safe to Sleep campaign, a sleep campaign that promoted back sleeping as the only safe position for newborn babies. 

So Why Isn’t Stomach Sleeping Safe? 

In truth, researchers aren’t sure why belly sleeping leads to health and safety concerns. Some studies suggest that when babies sleep on their stomach they are forced to breathe back in their exhaled breath, leading to a buildup of carbon dioxide in their body and a decrease in oxygen levels. This breath pattern could lead to overheating, since it becomes harder for your baby’s body heat to escape when they are taking back in their previously-exhaled carbon dioxide.

baby safely sleeping on back | babybay cosleepers

However, what is clear to researchers is that back sleeping is the position that best supports your baby’s healthy development. As studies have found, newborn babies who sleep on their back are less likely to experience stuffy noses, fevers, and ear infections. 

And while newborn babies who sleep on their stomachs tend to be less reactive to noise, experience less need for movement, and often drift into longer periods of deep sleep during the night (all of which might sound like welcome news to parents wanting to get some much-needed shuteye themselves), this lessened responsiveness comes with risks. When your newborn baby is less reactive while sleeping, they’re more likely to get stuck in an unsafe position when they sleep. 

This is why putting your baby to sleep on their back offers a level of confidence in baby’s safety that other sleep practices and positions don’t allow.

What About My Baby Sleeping on Side? Is That One of the Safe Sleep Practices? 

Experts recommend that babies steer clear of sleeping on their side for one simple reason: when your baby falls asleep on their side, it’s easier for them to roll onto their stomach. 

Though there’s no way to prevent your newborn baby from side sleeping, you can start by ensuring that you’re always putting your baby to sleep comfortably on their back. If they turn over during the night, simply roll them back over and let them continue to rest. 

Parent happily watching baby in co sleeper | babybay cosleepers

Sleeping close to your newborn baby during their first months of life—by participating in safe co sleeping and room sharing—can help you keep a close eye on your baby as they fall asleep. It can also make it easier to recognize unsafe sleeping positions and adjust your baby’s sleeping habits throughout the night.

In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends room sharing with your newborn baby for at least the first six months (and ideally the first year) of their life as a way to quickly respond to any concerns and ensure their healthy development. 

When Can I Stop Worrying About Baby Sleeping on Side or Stomach? 

Stomach and side sleeping stops being a concern for babies once they are able to easily roll themselves out of an unsafe position. If your little one is able to easily roll back-to-tummy or tummy-to-back, then it may be a sign that you can ease up on your concerns about their sleeping position. 

Babies usually develop this skill around 12 months of age. Until it’s clear that your baby has hit the necessary developmental milestones, you should continue to promote back sleeping by putting them to rest in that position when they go in the crib.

I’ve Heard My Baby Might Choke While Back Sleeping. Is That True? 

Some parents worry that back sleeping might promote choking or vomiting by making it hard for babies to clear their throat when fluids come. Fortunately, research has found that healthy babies are able to rely on their natural coughing reflex to easily clear their throat.

Because of the position of the trachea when babies sleep on their back, fluids also have to fight gravity to get from the stomach to your baby’s mouth. This actually makes choking less of a concern, since fluids have a more difficult path to follow when going up your baby’s throat. 

What’s the Best Way to Support Safe Sleep Practices As Babies Grow? 

Baby and parent together co sleeping | babybay cosleepers

It’s easier to be aware of your baby’s sleep position—and support safe sleep practices—when you’re able to keep a close eye on your little one. Sleep tools like a safe co sleeper, bedside crib, or bedside bassinet let you catch rest while being within arm’s reach of your baby, making it easy to shift your little one’s position if you see baby sleeping on back or on stomach. So they are able to sleep safely–while you feel peace of mind all night long.