This morning, our baby woke up at 6 AM screaming his head off. This was unusual. He’s almost 6 months old now and he’s a pretty good night sleeper. He typically wakes up once during the night for a feeding, then goes straight back down for another few hours before I get up with him for the day.
This morning, my wife got up to feed him and I could hear him crying for what must have been a solid 10-15 minutes before she finally got him to calm down. She told me later that he normally gets a little upset if she takes too long to feed him, but he was refusing to eat at all. She changed his diaper, his outfit, checked his temperature, and continued to try to feed him until he gave in.
So what gives?
My wife suggested that maybe he had gas, and I suggested maybe he had a bad dream. This led us to the question of the day:
Do Babies Dream?
Well, the jury’s kind of still out on that, because (duh) babies can’t speak. Our best answer is… kinda yes, kinda no?
Newborns and infants spend about half of their sleeping time in the REM sleep phase (the phase in which people dream), so they actually dream more than you or I do, right?
According to various infant sleep studies, REM phases at this stage in life mostly serve to develop neural pathways such as those needed to comprehend language or understand distance and space. Some claim that babies flat out never dream, while others claim that their dreams are more abstract.
If They Do Dream, What Do Babies Dream About?
As adults, our dreams are basically formed by our own experiences throughout the day. We don’t exactly have dreams totally figured out, but we know they help us resolve subconscious conflicts we conceive during the day. Looking at it this way, if babies dream, they’re mostly dreaming about pooping and breasts (Hey, me too!)
According to science, probably not. It’s more likely that babies dream differently than adults. Rather than a “plotline” or various events taking place, baby dreams are likely just about emotions. It takes a while for babies to figure out complex events or sequences, so it’s unlikely that their brains could formulate dreams in this way.
It’s hard for us to picture, but imagine dreams where you just experience different emotions, perhaps coupled with simple colors like black and white. If babies dream, that’s about as complicated as things are getting.
Can Babies Have Bad Dreams?
This is kind of the million dollar question. We’re definitely not the only parents who’ve had to deal with a screaming baby who’s instantly inconsolable from the moment he wakes up.
Since he’s only six months old, he could have been crying over any number of a million different things. It could have been a bad dream. It could have been gas. Or he could have just been crying because that’s what he felt like doing this morning.
If babies can dream though, then they can certainly have bad dreams. It’s just that those dreams are just a recollection of negative emotions they’ve experienced throughout the day.