Riaan is almost 3.5 years old now and each day is a new experience for me as a parent. I hear new things from him daily and it leaves me amazed at how much this tiny little brain is learning and absorbing. Few days ago, he woke up from his sleep and started narrating some incident which I knew never happened with him. It was something about him, his dad and me sitting in a vehicle and it broke down after which Riaan and me got down and his dad was struggling with the vehicle in a “muddy puddle” (courtesy Peppa Pig). It was a feeling of pride for me that my child has started dreaming and I waited for the next few days to listen to more stories but, to my disappointment; none came. Curiosity got the better of me (as it always has). I started reading up and researching on babies and dreams as it kind of intrigues me that babies too dream. I find it funny to imagine what kind of things they must be dreaming of. Here is a brief insight (as per my understanding) on babies and dreams. Read on and you may be surprised to know the facts!
Dreams, as we adults know, are a series of thoughts, images, and sensations occurring in a person’s mind during sleep. There are five stages of sleep. Four stages are the Non – REM sleep and one is called as REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement). We adults spend a quarter of our sleep time in REM sleep which is also the stage of sleep in which we dream. Infants spend a whooping 50 to 80 percent of their sleep time in the REM phase. It is a possibility that infants dream during this stage but, very difficult to establish anything as you cannot ask a baby to narrate their dream.
REM sleep is lighter and a more active sleep than NON – REM sleep. We tend to wake up more easily in the REM sleep. So, you have an answer to a million dollar question as to ‘why babies wake up so frequently at night and why do they take shorter naps.’ The answer is simple – they spend most of their time in the REM sleep phase and hence, even the lightest sounds disturb them.
Do Babies Dream?
It is very much possible that babies dream as they spend more of their sleep time in REM sleep but, it is very difficult to compare an adult dream to that of a baby. Adult dreams involve more complex feelings, emotions, language and a series of events mostly. Babies do not have that kind of development at such an early stage of their lives. During the initial years, babies grow and develop during their sleep time. That is why it is so important for children to be allowed ample amount of sleep time. During REM sleep, a baby’s brain is developing new neural pathways. There have been experiments conducted wherein babies have shown a learning process during their sleep time. So, if your child’s brain is busy functioning over time even during sleep, then that doesn’t leave much room for dreams to pop in.
Most cognitive psychologists believe that kids really start to have dreams with a sensible plot line when they are about 5 to 7 years old. This is around the time wherein they develop a sense of self, which is necessary to insert themselves into dreams and they are also learning the more complex emotions and language skills. However, do not be surprised if your 3 or 4 year old comes up to you one morning and reiterates a dream that they saw. They too have acquired a few skills in those many years which is enough to put it in a vivid dream.
What are Nightmares?
You might have heard about the term nightmare. A nightmare can be defined as a frightening or unpleasant dream. Adults experience nightmares more often than babies. About one quarter of children have nightmares every week. Nightmares begin when the child is about 2 years, an age where they start understanding the concept of fear a little bit. It peaks between the age of three and six years. Nightmares usually occur during the sleep cycle between 4 am to 6 am.
The explanation for nightmares is not known, however it’s thought to be due to the normal stresses and strains of growing up. Children who have toughened a traumatic event, for instance, tend to have frequent nightmares for the following six months preceding the event more or less.
If your child is experiencing nightmares then please do not ignore him / her. Cuddle your child and be there for them. Reassure them that they need not be scared and you are around.
So, here comes your moment of truth. Babies in all probability don’t dream much, however don’t fret yourself concerning the logistics of it — there’s necessary business occurring within that small head when he / she snoozes; and if one of the days your little one does come up to you upon waking with the strangest story then just smile and be a part of his / her first dream.
When was the first time your child narrated a dream to you? What was it about? Do write to me and tell me about it.
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