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Share What does your baby dream?

Mamen Jiménez @mamenjimenezpsi

He just fell asleep. He's so calm, he looks so serene


And then he starts to smile, he even lets out some laughter. Impossible not to look at him (and love him), impossible not to ask


What will my baby dream of ?

Watching your baby sleep is one of life's greatest pleasures (both because of the peace that they transmit and because of the breath they give us, we're not going to deny it, right?). But in addition to love it gives a bit of laughter, because the repertoire of facial expressions they show is greater than the one displayed by Jim Carrey in any of his first films: now he laughs, now he pouts, now he frowns ...

It is inevitable to try to guess what happens inside that small and precious little head when those laughs appear. So, do babies dream?

The phases of babies' sleep

Up to 4 months babies have two phases of sleep *:

  • REM phase (or MOR, rapid eye movements): we can know when they are in this phase because when looking at them you can clearly see how they move their eyes even if they are closed.
  • Non-REM phase : in this phase let's say that the children do what they do is recharge the batteries they have spent during the periods in which they have been awake.

After 4 months, his dream has a configuration similar to that of adults, including a phase of light sleep.

The arrival of this new phase would explain that babies that since their birth have slept the night almost from the pull (there are, or so the legend tells) begin to have several awakenings (to the despair of their parents): this phase is something similar to the sleepless, so that any noise, a blow or a sudden movement of their own can awaken them.

(* We speak in general terms, you know that everything related to the development of children has a temporary arc, there are no specific dates because there is a lot of variation between one child and another)

Do babies dream?

We are certain that babies have that REM phase in which adults do dream, but there is no agreement as to whether or not they actually dream at that stage.

On the one hand, we have approximations such as that of Dr. Charles P. Pollack, director of the Center for Sleep Medicine in New York, who affirms that the confirmation that this phase occurs is indicative that they actually dream. In fact, some studies indicate that the brain of the baby actually enters into stages in which sleep is feasible, even before birth, within the womb.

And if they dream, with what do they do it? According to Pollack it would not be possible to know the content, in the same way that we can not know what our pets, the puppies and the kittens dream about, because they do not have the language to explain it.

(Note: a few years ago there was an experiment in which they uninhibited motor "deactivation" that occurs during sleep in a few cats and dogs, and what was observed is that during sleep they made movements referring to "things of kennels and kittens ": digging in the ground, spinning, running, jumping ... This was interpreted as effectively in dreams the animals reproduce scenes of everyday life ... canine or feline.)

However, the most relevant neuroscientific approaches made in recent years, such as the work of David Foulkes (Harvard) seem to point out that although there are those stages in which it is possible to dream, in the case of babies, dreams do not occur. And that it will not be until 3 years that children begin to dream (as we understand adults dreams).

The observation of the small brains of babies during sleep indicates that there is indeed REM sleep, as Pollack says, in fact they spend most of their time in that phase, but this does not mean they have dreams.

According to Foulkes and his collaborators, the REM phase in children would have a different function from what it does in adults: in its case it would serve to establish neural connections (roads) in the first stages of development and later also to help in the development of language.

In turn, a study conducted in 2010 seems to indicate that babies learn while they sleep .

What does it take to dream

In the construction of dreams comes into play also precisely this, language and a capacity that we did not develop until after two or three years: the imagination .

Children gradually develop their ability to perceive the world, with language they begin to put order in those ideas about those around them, but they need a little more time and capacity to be able to build ideas and structures about it.

And we can explain things because we have language, we can remember in detail because we think, and the thought has support


that is, the language, in a way that seems logical that until it has not developed can not occur those daydreams loaded with content.

In addition to language and imagination, to talk about dreams like the ones we adults have, we also need the development of the perception of space, among other things. In fact, the research carried out by these authors indicates that, for example, at 4 or 5 years, age in which the development of language and allows children to talk about their dreams, these are flat, without argument or characters .

As for those facial expressions and those movements that we see in the children while they sleep, they seem to be a product of the immaturity of the brain that, let's say, still does not control the "on" and "off" buttons of the body during sleep and " they escape "movements.

Could you dream of sensations and emotions? It is perhaps the common position among specialists, that despite not having "movie-like" dreams they do experience feelings of security (being in arms, right?) Or fear (but where is Mom?). In fact Foulkes indicates in his work that at age 4 those "flat" dreams in terms of visualization and without "plot" can have emotional content. Perhaps those little faces that so tender us are due, therefore, to that perhaps they are not dreaming, but they are feeling .

In summary

It seems that babies do not dream as adults do, with vivid scenes and images, but they could "have sensations". What they do have is the same REM phase as adults, but instead of serving to elaborate complex dreams, it helps them learn and mature their brains.

To develop a dream as such it is necessary to have certain language development, capacity to imagine, to perceive and elaborate contents about the world that surrounds us, as well as to have the spatial vision developed. And that's a lot to ask our kids when they're babies.

It will be necessary to wait until 3 years for your brain to begin to reach certain stages of development that allow you to "start dreaming", and a little more time, around 4 or 5 years, so that they begin to share with us what their little heads elaborate while they are in the arms of Morpheus.

In any case, and whatever science says the truth is that it is inevitable to think that the smile that is drawn on his face is because he is dreaming of us, right? Well, with us or with a huge breast filled with rich and warm milk or with huge and comfortable arms in which to sink and rest.

It seems clear then that babies, at least until 3 or 4 years, do not have elaborate dreams, with history and complex scenarios. Those of us who do are the daddies: we dream of being able to sleep a night of the pull .


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